“The Houston Astros won the world series again last night.”

That one sentence could be an entire story in itself.

That’s the power of a summary lead: A sentence or paragraph that communicates information in a succinct way.

Whether it be breaking news, investigative reporting, or a funny story from your community, a great lead will ensure you catch the attention of more readers. A summary lead focuses on communicating just the facts in a crisp, clear way, giving news value to users reading your article.

Key Takeaways

  • Online business owners, service providers, and communications professionals can all benefit from learning the basics of scene setting and lead writing.
  • When you understand how to communicate background information in your first few sentences, you’ll be more effective and less verbose.
  • That being said, leads are deceptively hard to write. There’s just so much you want to share!
  • A lead forces you to think like most editors do, cut unnecessary words, and communicate the heart of the news event.

Here’s what to know about summary leads in relation to other types of leads.

What Is a Summary Lead?

A summary lead communicates a major story or other news reporting in one paragraph or less. This is sometimes called the lead paragraph. In some cases, summary leads are only one sentence in length. Brevity is the priority in traditional lead writing.

The summary lead doesn’t have to be the very first sentence, though. You might opt to open with a zinger lead, punch lead, or other creative lead instead for your first sentence, then summarize your story in the following nut graph (nutshell paragraph). The format of communicating the most important details of a story first is called the inverted pyramid style.

A good news lead summarizes your story in the first paragraph, or even the first sentence. Seeing examples of good leads in action will help you develop your journalistic writing skills.

Writing Leads: Summary Lead, News Story Lead, Anecdotal Lead, And More

Let’s say we’re writing a story that summarizes the announcement of a new scientific breakthrough. Here are some ways the lead could be written.

Summary Lead

“Last week, a team of scientists published a new study showing how regular exercise benefits mental health. The research involved over 50,000 participants over a period of ten years, and were announced in a press release from the journal that published the paper.”

This lead communicates the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the science. Yes, it’s longer. But notice how this lead communicates everything you need to know.

News Lead

"New research reveals the benefits of regular exercise for mental health."

This lead communicates the facts in a succinct, almost pithy way. News leads are sometimes also used as headlines.

Question Lead

“Need another reason to exercise regularly? Scientists have proven it benefits your mental health, too.”

Notice how we ask a question to create curiosity for our readers. This jolt of emotion can be what piques readers’ interest enough for them to stick with us.

Anecdotal Lead

“Andrew Chatsworth got into running because he found it helped with his depression. “I just noticed how it improved my mood and made me feel better,” he said. His gut is corroborated by new research from a team of leading scientists on the benefits of exercise for mental health.”

The anecdotal lead is powerful. Notice how, by leading with a short sentence that incorporates story, we’re able to delay the hard news a bit while still engaging the reader.

Observational Lead

“Although the scientists believed in their hypothesis that exercise benefits mental health, they found it challenging to get enough participants willing to open up about their mental health challenges. Here’s what changed that led to a research breakthrough.”

An observational lead is different from news leads in that we have more thorough information about a story, and therefore can present it from many different angles. We can foreshadow and incorporate literary devices that are not normally available to us in news writing or inverted pyramid style.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Summary Lead?

A summary lead communicates the essential details of a story in an opening paragraph, or sometimes a single sentence, usually near or at the beginning of an article.

How Long Should a Summary Lead Be?

While they’re aren’t hard-and-fast rules on word count, you are writing a summary. See if you can park all the details in 50 words or less.

What Is a Summary Lead in PR?

When writing a pitch, a summary lead is an opening sentence that summarizes the entire email. Some producers and media professionals prefer this pitching style.

What Are the Rules of Lead Writing?

Follow the ABC’s of journalism: Accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Ensure your lead is accurate, use fewer words when possible, and make it easy to understand.

What Is a Lead in a News Story?

In news, the lead summarizes the important information in a story. There are many types of leads, depending on a writer’s style and purpose of the article.

Is It News Lead or Lede?

It’s both, actually. The word lead is sometimes spelled lede. This hearkens back to when editors edited stories with pen and paper; the misspelled “lede” was easier to see.

How Do You Write a Lead in a News Story?

Incorporate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your story into a paragraph. Then organize this information by importance, with the most essential details first.

Final Takeaway

Start writing more summaries and you’ll soon see just what a big difference they can make. When you’re found your lead sentence, the rest of your article will soon click into place. ◆

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