When 23-year-old Amberlyn Anderson of Topeka, Kansas sat down at her laptop to write, she knew she had to get this information out into the world. But she wanted to make readers feel the way she felt when she first stumbled across this pearl of wisdom. So she decided to lead with her own personal experience of how her life had changed as a result.


The above paragraph is an example of an anecdotal lead. Using one at the front of your story, blog, or article can help you capture a reader’s attention right from the start.

There are many different types of leads. As long as your lead creates focus and interest for your reader, it’s a good lead.

Breaking news stories will typically use a traditional lead or summary lead that communicates hard facts and little else. SEO writers might employ a question lead to pique a reader’s curiosity. Fiction writers will use a descriptive lead to immerse readers into their story.

But there’s another type of lead, the anecdotal lead, that can compel readers quickly.

Key Takeaways

  • An anecdote is a short story.
  • Using one can illustrate an important point in an interesting or humorous way, giving you a way to land main points in a deeper way.
  • Moreover, anecdotes let you inject personality into your writing, something that will become increasingly important in a world powered by AI.

In this article, we’ll look at some anecdotal lead examples, other examples of good leads for comparison, and categories of anecdotes you can start incorporating into your writing today.

An Example of Anecdotal Lead Structure in Action

By definition, an anecdote is a short story about a person, place, thing, or event. Anecdotes can be real or made up, but one of the most important features of an anecdote is reader appeal.

Here's an example of an anecdotal lead from tech publisher The Verge. The article was about the history of the TSA in the United States.

“People cry at airports all the time. So when Jai Cooper heard sobbing from the back of the security line, it didn’t really faze her. As an officer of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), she had gotten used to the strange behavior of passengers. Her job was to check people’s travel documents, not their emotional well-being. But this particular group of tearful passengers presented her with a problem.”

Anecdotal leads can be happy, sad, angry, humorous, or a number of other emotions. Here’s a fun piece from McSweeney’s showing examples of anecdotal leads for news stories if they were reporting the apocalypse.

As long as your short story gets the reader interested in the rest of your article, consider your mission accomplished.

For Contrast: Straight News Lead, Summary Lead, Descriptive Lead Examples

Technically, a lead should be able to communicate the news in just one sentence. More often, though, journalists and content writers will also use the nut graph to communicate important information.

Pro Tip:“Nut graph” is shorthand for “nutshell paragraph;” this is a paragraph in your article that summarizes the news story or information there is to come.

Let’s look at examples of other types of leads and how this same information could have been presented through an anecdote instead.

Straight News Lead

A straight news lead aims to answer a reader’s questions about the incident at hand. This includes:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

“So what?” and “Now what?” are also common lead questions. If a straight news lead can incorporate all of this information succinctly, that’s nice, but usually the two or three details are what are highlighted most.

➡️ Example: The snowstorm led to school being canceled on Wednesday.

➡️ Rewritten as an anecdotal lead: Abigail Jones doesn’t usually get to have a snowball fight on a Wednesday morning. But mother nature had a change of plans.

Summary Lead

The phrase “summary lead” is sometimes used interchangeably with news lead. But your article may not always be about news. A summary lead aspires to summarize an article in just a few sentences so that readers know what to expect.

➡️ Example: This article will show you how to plant an herb garden in your backyard.

➡️ Rewritten as an anecdotal lead: Spaghetti and meatballs night has never been more popular in the DeBose residence. That’s because Jim began growing the herbs for his family recipe pasta sauce last year.

Descriptive Lead

A descriptive lead is more common in narrative writing and fiction writing. It may also be used in feature writing. Rather than lead with reported details, the idea of a descriptive lead is that it will give readers a deeper impression of the story by offering vivid descriptions of the characters or scenery in a story.

➡️ Example: Galesburg, Illinois is surrounded by cornfields.

➡️ Rewritten as an anecdotal lead: As soon as you leave my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, you’ll be surrounded by cornfields as far as the eye can see. If you visit in the summer, the stalks are so tall they look like ocean waves crashing onto the shore, fluid and peaceful and full of life.

Anecdotal Lead Types to Consider

Personal Stories

Personal experiences have a way of resonating with readers on a deep level. By sharing relatable anecdotes about yourself or others, you can draw your audience into your content, fostering a sense of connection

For example, when writing about the importance of exercise, you could start with a story about a friend who transformed their life through fitness. This anecdotal lead immediately captures attention and sets the tone for your article.

Emotional Examples

Another effective way to engage readers is by evoking their emotions right from the beginning. Suppose you are writing an article on the impact of climate change. You could start with a powerful anecdote about someone who experienced the devastation of severe weather events firsthand.

By connecting your readers to the emotions of your story, they will be compelled to continue reading, eager to learn more about the subject at hand.

Industry Experiences

When promoting thought leadership, it can be helpful to use an anecdote to help illustrate a point.

For instance, if you are crafting an article about the importance of education, you could begin with an anecdote about an individual who overcame numerous obstacles to pursue knowledge. By presenting a relatable situation that highlights the significance of education, you inspire your readers to consider their own aspirations and the role education plays in their lives.

The Big Takeaway

Incorporating anecdotal leads in your writing can be a powerful tool in capturing and retaining your readers' attention. Remember to choose anecdotes that are relevant to your topic, relatable to your audience, and aligned with your overall tone and message.

By investing time and effort into your storytelling skills, you can enhance the effectiveness of your content and captivate readers along the way. ◆

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