The first sentence of your article might be the only information people read.

As such, if you're sharing important information, it might be best to start your article with a good news lead. A news lead is the opening paragraph or sentence of a story. It communicates a news story in a succinct way, usually with just the facts.

Lead writing is a useful skill for all kinds of writers, but especially journalists, who often need to communicate breaking news on very short deadlines. In fact, you probably encounter news leads and other types of leads all day long without even realizing it. You know good leads when you see them while browsing online because they grab your attention.

Lead writing can be fun, and there are many different types of leads to explore and experiment with once you've mastered the basics. Here’s a bit more about what makes a great lead.

News Lead Definition and Examples

Most news stories you read online or in print use a format called the inverted pyramid. In this structure, the most important part of a story is written first. This section is called the lead.

A lead is different from a headline, because the lead is part of the actual story. In some cases, though, the headline is descriptive enough that it communicates all the details. However, this informative headline strategy has become less popular in online media, since publishers usually need users to click on headlines and read stories in order to generate revenue.

News Lead Types

Here are some different types of leads you can experiment with to catch readers’ interest.

Summary Leads

A summary lead, sometimes called a traditional lead, shares the who, what, where, when, why, and how of a story in as few words as possible. Of all the types of leads, summary lead is one of the most common in day-to-day news events.

Example

“There is some controversy brewing in the suburbs over the new hire of an art teacher within the Homer Community Consolidated District 33C. Parents are upset by the hire of an art teacher who they say has posted some questionable things on social media, and they are telling FOX 32 they don't understand how this person was hired.”

Question Leads

Questions create curiosity. There’s no better way to get your reader curious than to get them actively thinking. A question lead will accomplish that.

Example:

"Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a billion-dollar company?"

Delayed Identification Leads

In a delayed identification lead, some details are given in the first paragraph or lead paragraph, but other details come in a later paragraph. This adds dramatic effect to journalistic writing, and can sometimes be more effective than just a quick summary.

Creative Leads

There are also interpretations of the lead that are not married to traditional journalism. If you’re not under pressure to get the facts out quickly, you might play with one or more of these creative options.

There’s the zinger lead, which is all about the drama. There’s also an anecdotal lead, in which the first paragraph utilizes an anecdote or other narrative device to make a more emotional impact.

Single Item Leads

A good lead doesn’t have to have the whole story fit in one sentence. In a single time lead, only one of the story details is presented.

These are sometimes called short sentence leads. The use of a short sentence or short phrase is what engages the reader, because they want to know the other details of the story.


Tips For Writing Leads in As Few Words As Possible

  • Avoid using unnecessary words.
  • Prioritize good reporting and research so the lead comes easily when you start writing.
  • Use active voice for faster scene setting.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Types of News Leads?

Summary lead, question lead, and anecdotal lead are the most common types of news leads.

What Is the Difference Between a News Lead and a Headline?

A headline is what users see before clicking on an article, and is usually in larger font. A news lead is the first sentence or paragraph of the article itself.

What Is the Difference Between a Lead and a Lede?

They refer to the same term, and are just different spellings. Back when editors edited stories by hand, they would use intentional misspellings in their first-person notes to distinguish clearly from the story.

Start Writing More Leads Today

Distilling the most important information of a story down to one sentence is a great writing exercise. Try your hand at news lead writing today to build your storytelling skills. ◆

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