What is a lead in writing? The lead should capture the essence of the who , what , when , where , why and how — but without giving away the entire show. Funny thing about this blog post: When I sat down to write it, it dawned on me that I was trying to write a good lead for a post about how to write a good lead. That sure sent me down a rabbit hole. This, in turn, prompted me to eat an entire bag of mini powdered donuts from the gas station, clean out my desk, poll my co-workers about their shower preferences morning or night? A good lead is enticing.
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A lead or lede refers to the opening sentences of a brief composition or the first paragraph or two of a longer article or essay. Leads introduce the topic or purpose of a paper, and particularly in the case of journalism, need to grab the reader's attention. A lead is a promise of what's to come, a promise that the piece will satisfy what a reader needs to know. They can take many styles and approaches and be a variety of lengths, but to be successful, leads need to keep the readers reading, or else all the research and reporting that went into the story won't reach anyone. Most often when people talk about leads, it's in professional periodical writing, such as in newspapers and magazines. Many ways exist as far as how to write a lead, the styles of which likely differ based on the tone or voice of the piece and intended audience in a story—and even the overall length of the story.
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The straight news lead - the news-service lead - is one sentence of no more than 35 words and no more than one comma. That probably sounds too rigid, and it is, but a writer who aims to meet those criteria will produce a cleaner lead than a writer who doesn't. A straight news lead - and a news article - is objective: that means it does not take sides and is fair to all sides, regardless of the reporter's personal opinions. By the way, "lead" is often rendered as "lede" by journalists so it cannot be confused with the strips of lead the leading used to space out the lines of type back when type was something heavy that you could drop on your toe, not ones and zeroes in a computer file.
No one wants a dead article! A story that goes unread is pointless. It sets the tone and pace and direction for everything that follows. It is the puzzle piece on which the rest of the story depends. Coming up with a good lead is hard.