Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to write a strong lead


Just finished grading your Jeannette Emert stories - the stories made good use of quotes and the tips that the police officer gave on staying safe on campus.

BUT - the royal but - the leads were almost uniformly awful. Until you can write a good lead you aren't go to get anywhere in mastering the skills of writing a news story. The lead is the first thing an editor and reader sees. If that doesn't engage, they aren't going to waste their time either working the story or reading it.

So here again are some rules:

Get to the point. News stories DO NOT have introductions (a common failing in your stories.)

A good lead summarizes the main focus of the news story and lets the reader know what to expect from the rest of the story. A good lead also may hint at what is to come.

A good lead usually should be less than 25 words, although special types of leads can be longer, if necessary.

To decide on a lead, first ask yourself what the story is about. Answer the question as if you were telling a friend who had no prior information on the subject.

Most leads will answer the basic five-W questions: who, what, where, when, why and how.

In most cases, a lead should be one simple declarative sentence structured in the active voice.

The primary types of leads include the straight news (or summary) lead, the quote lead, the anecdote lead, the list (or "bam-bam-bam") lead, the descriptive (or scene-setting) lead, and the question lead.

A nut graf is a paragraph that summarizes in a nutshell the main point of the story. In simple stories, the lead is the nut graf. In feature stories, the nut graf may follow the lead. Every news story should have a nut graph somewhere near the beginning.

Never bury the lead -- e.g. putting the most important element of the story anywhere other than at the beginning.

Avoid leads that place readers in unlikely situations -- e.g. Inexperienced writers occasionally try to put the reader in the picture with the use of second-person voice writing using the word YOU. This rarely works. Sometimes it is ridiculous.

Avoid cliche leads --e.g. expressions such as avoided like the plague, flies in the face of ...worth its weight in gold.

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