Writing Effective Leads–12 Different Approaches

20 Feb

As you get ready to write your article (whether it’s for a magazine, newsletter, newspaper, or website), you will probably first consider how you want to START it.

The first impression you give is of upmost importance, after all. You want to start an article with a catchy lead, capturing the reader’s attention from the get-go.

Here are 12 different techniques to consider using for the next lead you write:

1. Summary Lead

A summary lead — which is sometimes thought of as the straight news lead — states the key point of the article. (For example: “Howard B. Unruh, 28, a mild, soft-spoken veteran of battles in Italy, France and Germany, killed 12 people with a war souvenir Luger pistol in his home block in East Camden Tuesday morning. He wounded four others.”)

2. Direct Address Lead

A lead that is a direct address to readers  —  a “you” lead  —  is calculated to induce them to continue reading because it involves them to some degree. (“If you have a shape like a pear, don’t let it bother you. You are more likely to succeed in life than most people.”)

3. Anecdotal Lead

      An anecdotal lead tells a real-life story that illustrates the point of the article. While not always the case, anecdotal leads can be emotionally charged (poignant or humorous, for example). (“It’s the night before Sarah’s wedding. The images she’d dreamed of for years — the perfect dress, the meaningful vows, the sumptuous cake — now seem to reside only in the land of fairy tales. Her bridesmaids are fighting, her groom hasn’t reported on the state of his vows, and the wrong flowers were ordered. Thinking of the disarray around her, Sarah bursts into tears. This isn’t the way her wedding day is supposed to be.”)

4. Descriptive Lead

A descriptive lead describes a person, place, or event. It transports readers immediately to the location or helps them “see” the setting of the subject the article will be about. ( “The long line of Khaki-clad youths stood at attention. The last notes of a bu­gle across the parade ground floated through the late-afternoon light. In the dis­tance, a warm window light shone, and John Henry felt a lump growing in his throat.”)

5. Why Lead

A why lead emphasizes the “cause” and is combined with the “what.” ( “They told Williard Johnson he’d never be a football player. After all, he had only one leg.”)

6. Unbelievable Lead

An unbelievable lead grabs the reader’s attention by revealing something startling. The reader will say, “I almost can’t believe that,” and then will want to continue reading to find out more.   (“Five out of 100 people have an extra rib. Every three days a human stomach gets a new lining. The record for the loudest burp is 118 decibels, which is as loud as a chainsaw.”)

7. Cliché Lead

      A cliché lead takes a familiar saying and puts a twist on it. The saying must be related to the theme of the article. Avoid bro­mides, platitudes, and triteness.  (“A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it’s not worth much of anything if it’s out of focus.”)

8. Contrast Lead

A contrast lead combines two or more antithetic elements to make an idea more significant or interesting.  (“School teachers went on strike this fall for the third time in eight years, but the city’s 62,000 public school pupils were told to report to class.”)

9. Quotation Lead

A quotation in the lead can draw readers into the ar­ticle. The quotation, though, should be brief and part of the gist of the article — and, most importantly, it should be powerful enough that it deserves being used in the lead. Don’t just use just any quote.  (“One evening in January when their children were in bed, Richard and Eu­genia Smith sat before their television set, talking. ‘All right,’ Richard said coolly, in re­sponse to an accusation from his wife. ‘I don’t love you, I haven’t for some time, and I want a divorce.’”)

10. Figurative Lead

Metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech may be used in a lead. Be certain, though, to avoid triteness and banality. (“The colorful dark horse wearing a white rose, running headlong into the election of 1872, hoped to buck the ‘superiority of man’ harness off America’s women.”)

11. Question Lead

A good question lead makes readers want to know the answer. Don’t ask a frivolous question. Choose one that provokes your reader’s curiosity.  (“Were the best presidents of the United States the sickest ones?”)

12. Combination Lead

      Leads may combine two or more of the preceding types of leads. You might, for example, combine an anecdotal lead with a question lead. Such a lead would present readers with a real-life situation and then ask if they have ever been through a similar experience. Or you could combine a quotation lead with a direct address lead … or you could use any other combination of lead types.


5 Responses to “Writing Effective Leads–12 Different Approaches”

  1. lonely_girlie143 October 16, 2015 at 2:28 pm #

    Thank you sooooo much … I just needed this for my exam tomorrow ❤ ❤

  2. Hajarah Olaitan Balogun December 27, 2016 at 7:32 pm #

    The lead of a story has been described by so many as the most important part of the story as the lead is what can encourage or discourage the reader from continuing his/her reading. The lead not only entices the readers but it acts as the gateway of the story because it gives the reader a tip of the story.

    Writing a good lead is the goal of a good journalist, a journalist should be knowledgeable when it comes to the particular lead and the type of story to use it for it. This article by miss Cheryl is a very good guide to journalists, giving us a very brief but yet detailed explanation on the 12 types of leads and good examples.


  1. Spoedcursus: hoe schrijf ik een lead? – Kamelia Boon - June 3, 2016

    […] Op onderstaande link kan je dit rustig allemaal nalezen als je hier interesse in hebt. https://writingwithcheryl.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/writing-effective-leads-12-different-approaches/ Zelf heb ik gekozen voor een question lead. Door het stellen van een vraag wil de lezer meestal het […]

  2. Re Lead voor een tijdschrift : Gullwing – bartisblogging - July 5, 2016

    […] Lees het artikel ‘how to write effective leads’ via https://writingwithcheryl.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/writing-effective-leads-12-different-approaches/ d) Welke van de 12 benaderingen is hier […]

  3. How to write a story, a quick guide to basic news writing! – Rookie Journalist - March 22, 2017

    […] is the paragraph in a news story that serves to introduce the main topic or focus of the story. There are several types and they all serve for different types of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: