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Five Steps To Writing a Great Lede

Craft a Snappy Start To Your Story That Will Leave Readers Wanting More

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So you've done a ton of reporting and dug up a great story. But all your work will be wasted if you write a boring lede that won't grab your readers' attention. Follow these tips and you'll be writing knock-their-socks-off ledes that will leave your readers wanting more.

1. Writing a Lede - The Basics

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The lede (that’s how journalists spell it) is the first paragraph of any news story. It’s also the most important. The lede must give readers the main points of the story, get readers interested in reading the story and accomplish both “a” and “b” in as few words as possible. Typically editors want ledes to be no longer than 35-40 words. Readers want their news delivered quickly, and a short lede does just that.

2. Know What To Put In And What To Leave Out

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One of the first questions journalism students have when learning to write a lede is what to put in, and what to leave out. Experienced reporters instinctively know what should be included in a lede. But while crafting a lede can be confusing for the beginner, rest assured that with practice, it will eventually come easily. Generally, the lede should convey the main point of the story without getting bogged down in a lot of small details.

3. When Writing a Lede, Listen to Your Gut

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Beginners learning to craft a lede often worry about cramming the five W's and the H into that all-important first sentence. But writing a great lede is really about listening to what your gut tells you about what makes a story interesting.

4. Emphasize What's Newsworthy

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Sometimes, one particular aspect of a story – the who, what, where, when, why or how - will be especially interesting or newsworthy. Celebrity stories are an example. People die of drug overdoses all the time, but when it happens to a celebrity it’s big news. So the “who” aspect of the story – who died – must be emphasized.

5. Add Context

Ledes must be short, but that doesn’t mean they can’t include context and perspective that add meaning to a story. Adding just a little context gives the reader a much greater understanding of what the story is about.

6. Keep it Short And To The Point

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You've probably heard an editor say that when it comes to newswriting, keep it short, sweet and to the point. Some editors call this "writing tight." It means conveying as much information as possible in as few words as possible. It sounds easy, but if you've spent years writing research papers - where the emphasis is often on being longwinded - it can be quite difficult.
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