After the headline, your lead – a simple, clear statement consisting of the first few sentences of your story – is the most important part of your article.
A lead must:
- Pull the reader in.
- Convey the basic information (who, what, where, when, why and how)
- Include only the most important information
- Tell the reader what is unusual or unique
- Focus on people doing things
- Tell reader why they should care
- Be accurate
If your lead isn’t compelling, chances are your reader will go elsewhere.
There are many ways to craft a lead. Two of most common leads are 1.) the hard news (or inverted pyramid) lead and 2) the delayed (or anecdotal) lead.
A hard news lead answers the basic information: who, what, where, when and why in the first paragraph. It is usually short, often fewer than 25 words, unless you use two sentences.
Here is a hard news lead in a story about Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp
A delayed lead often sets the stage with some unusual details, incorporates a good quote, or sets a scene before conveying the basic information.
Here is an example of a delayed lead in a story about figure skating.
Now let’s look at some examples of leads about Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show debut:
Here is an article on 10 Ways to Write a Great Lead
Now try writing your own lead with the following information….
WHAT: Rowan University Recreation Center runs a program called Santa Callings, in which local South Jersey kids get a phone call from Santa asking what they want for Christmas.
WHO: Rowan University students call local kids who participate in summer camp at the Rec Center. Female Rowan students pose as elves. Male students pose as Santa Claus.
WHEN: Calls are made two weeks before Christmas.
HOW: Parents fill out questionnaires for their children that include information like the name of their school, siblings, family members and what gifts they want. Rowan students use the information to make the call seem more real.
WHERE: Rowan University Rec Center.
WHY: It’s a fun activity that reinforces relationships between the Rec Center staff and parents. And it’s fun for kids.
QUOTE: “When I was told what the Santa Callings were I was a little hesitant to try it,” said Marty Marcinkiewicz, a former Rec Center employee. “I was afraid the kids would not believe I was Santa. But after a few calls I loved it. The kids get so excited, it’s awesome.”