What is a lead, and why do you need one for your piece of writing?
A lead (sometimes pronounced as lede) is the opening paragraph of a piece of writing that gives readers an overview of what the article or story will be about. A good lead will also hook readers in and make them want to keep reading. Humans are naturally curious, so why not use it to your advantage?
The main goal of a lead is to exploit readers’ curiosity by making them wonder what will happen next. You should give a “reading momentum” to your readers, which will push them to read further, and this is what a great lead makes.
Leads are typically used for news writing and journalistic writing. However, you can also use leads in essay writing as well, especially if your essay is relatively short.
So, let’s go deeper into lead writing and check out some tips and examples of good leads.
How long should a lead be?
The length of your lead should be directly proportional to the overall length of your piece. That means that if you’re writing a short article, it can be only one sentence. If your article is longer, you can write several sentences.
Ideally, your lead should be no more than one or two sentences for a short article and no more than three or four sentences for a longer piece.
Most common types of leads
In general, there are two major lead types: summary lead and creative lead.
Summary Lead (traditional lead)
This is the most traditional lead type, and it provides a summary of the article or a news story in as few words as possible.
As you can guess, the summary lead provides a quick summary by answering the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. We will take a closer look at these elements below.
A creative lead is typically used in feature or informal writing, and it’s designed to provoke curiosity or set the scene for the story. This can be done in many ways, but some of the most common ones include starting with a thought-provoking question, a quotation, or an anecdote to grab readers’ interest.
Writing Leads: Lead examples
1. The Straight News Lead
This type of lead is often used for writing hard news stories and usually answers the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. It is often seen in newspaper writing.
Refers to the subject of the story.
Is the main point or event of the story.
Tells when the event happened or will happen.
Scene setting – where the event happened or will happen.
Provides the purpose or reason for the story
This is often referred to as the “just the facts” approach. It can be especially effective for breaking news stories where time is of the essence.
Hundreds of people are homeless after a fire ripped through a local apartment complex last night.
2. The Quotation Lead
You can start writing this lead by featuring a direct quotation from a person or people involved in the story. It is often used in human interest stories or stories about controversial topics.
“I’m disgusted with the way our government is handling this issue,” says John Doe, a local citizen.
3. The Anecdotal Lead
This type of lead tells a brief story or an anecdote related to the main topic of the article or essay. It is often used in human interest stories, as well as in stories about controversial topics.
When Jane Doe was sixteen, she never imagined that she would one day be homeless.
4. The Statistic Lead
This type of lead features a statistic related to the main topic of the article or essay. It is often used in stories about controversial topics or issues.
According to a recent study, nearly 60% of Americans are dissatisfied with the current state of the economy.
5. The Feature Lead
This type of lead is often used in feature stories, which are longer and more in-depth than hard news stories. Feature leads are usually more creative than straight news leads, and they often use literary devices such as similes or metaphors.
This story happened in the city that was a concrete jungle, a never-ending maze of gray and brown.
6. The Question Lead
This type of lead features a question related to the main topic of the article or essay. Questions can be effective in grabbing readers’ attention and making them want to find out the answer.
How many times have you seen a homeless person on the street and wondered what their story is?
7. One Word or Short Phrase Lead
This type of lead features a word or phrase, or short sentence, that is related to the main topic of the article or essay. This can be an effective way to start a story, especially if the word or phrase is interesting, thought-provoking, or unexpected.
“We all want what’s best for our children.”
This is a great lead-in to an article about parenting or education. It’s a universal truth that every parent wants what’s best for their child, so this lead sets up the rest of the article nicely.
8. Staccato Lead
Staccato is a musical term meaning “detached” or “unconnected.” In writing, it means to keep your sentences and thoughts short. This lead focuses on just one main idea per sentence. It’s a great way to add punchiness and vibrancy to your writing, but be careful not to overdo it, or your writing will sound choppy.
The city bustled with activity. People hurried to and fro. Cars honked their horns. No one had expected the tornado to hit so quickly.
9. Zinger Lead
A zinger is a rhetorical device used to make a sudden, sharp, or surprising statement. It’s often used for comic effect, but it can also be used to make a serious point. A zinger lead is a great way to grab your reader’s attention and get them hooked on your story.
I never thought I’d see the day when my dog would be arrested.
10. Delayed Identification Lead
The delayed identification lead, also known as the “mysterious stranger” lead, is a great way to add suspense and intrigue to your story. In this type of lead, you don’t identify the main character or subject of the story until later on. You can use a descriptive pronoun (such as “the man” or “the woman”) if you want to give your reader a hint about who the mystery person is and reveal his or her identity in a later paragraph.
The woman walked into the room and everyone fell silent. She had an aura of power about her, and it was clear that she was not to be messed with.
So as you can see, there are no limitations when it comes to writing a good lead. Just let your creativity flow and choose the lead type that fits your story best.
How to write a lead sentence – tips to keep in mind
- When writing your lead, be sure to use an active voice. This makes your writing sound more lively and engaging. Passive voice often sounds dull and boring.
- Use active verbs. This will also make your writing sound more lively and engaging.
- Active sentences are shorter and easier to read than passive sentences. This is important because you want your readers to actually read what you’ve written, not just skim over it.
- Be concise. Writing leads is all about getting to the point quickly. Don’t try to be too wordy, or you’ll lose your reader’s attention.
- Good leads should be attention-grabbing, but they shouldn’t give away too much. You want to leave your reader wanting more.
- Most readers will make up their minds about your article or essay within the first few sentences. People are lazy, and they rarely read post the first paragraph.
Now that you know all about leads, it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice. Choose one of the lead types from the list above or invent your own lead type and use it to write a good story.