The opening of a news story - usually the first paragraph - is termed "the lead."The lead is the most important part of any newspaper story, because the reader usually decides whether to continue reading based on the lead. As a writer, we have to persuade the reader to stick with us. As a result, newspaper writers naturally struggle with their leads.
An 18-year-old Mariappan high school student was killed late Wednesday when his bicycle struck a telephone pole near Vannarpettai Tirunelveli.
First, what are the Five Ws in this story?
What: Killed in a single-vehicle accident.
When: 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 2A.
Why: bicycle struck telephone pole.
How: bicycle went out of control.
In the suggested recast lead, the writer has chosen to name five of the six key points, but in more general fashion that allows for economy of words. How, and the remaining details, will be filled in later.
Once the writer has decided the most important information to put in the lead, presented it as a complete sentence, lead-writing guidelines in mind.
Keep it tight - use no more than about 30 words.
Avoid distractions - strive to write a coherent lead that contains no capital letters other than the first one, no numerals, no commas and no formal titles
Set the right tone - the tone of the lead should be appropriate for the event being reported on.
Don't bury the lead - don't make readers wallow through insignificant facts to get the point of the story.
Highlight differences - find the fact, that makes the story different.
Speak clearly - jargon, acronyms, foreign phrases, abstract concepts, general and vague language all make it hard to understand what a story is about. Say what you mean and say it clearly and directly.
Use active words - describe the action. Where possible use the active voice.
Be visual - help the reader "see" what's happening.
Beware double-decker leads - don't repeat the first paragraph in the second.
Avoid clichés - don't let something go terribly wrong..
- Journalists call the opening of a news story "the lead."
- The lead is the most important part of any newspaper story, because it is based on the lead that most readers decide whether to continue reading.
- The lead must accurately summarize the facts of the story.
- The lead must be interesting enough to command and keep the reader's attention.
- The modern preference is to keep leads short.
- Economical use of words will benefit any news lead.
- A telling detail that sets a story apart from the others belongs in the lead.
- Lead writers should speak clearly and use the active voice.