Writing Leads

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 an example: Hong Kong democracy protestors defy calls to disperse (USAToday.com)

A delayed lead often sets the stage with some concrete details, incorporates a good quote, or sets a scene before conveying the basic information. Here is an example: For a Worker With Little Time Between 3 Jobs, a Nap Has Fatal Consequences (NYTimes.com)

But there are also other ways to write a lead; for examples, see 10 Ways to Write a Great Lead.

In-class Exercise:

Open a Word Doc. Using the following facts to write a lead. Write it as if it happened yesterday.

1. Write a hard news lead using the following:

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 yesterday, 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 1: “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.”

2. Now write a delayed lead using the same facts, but also some audio that is played in class.

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