How to Write a Good Lead

By Soloman, Frank | Policy & Practice, June 2006 | Go to article overview

How to Write a Good Lead


Soloman, Frank, Policy & Practice


There is no doubt that a reader decides whether he or she wants to go on reading based on your first paragraph, and nothing in professional writing is as difficult as writing that lead paragraph.

Most people preparing an article, a report or a news release want to cramp everything they have in the lead. But too much information often is not enough to make the readers want to continue onto the second paragraph. The skill lies not in a ready gush of all the information that needs to be unleashed in the lead, but in how to tell the most important information in a simple, clear and crisp way.

Clarity, precision and simplicity are the best way to write a lead. A good lead makes a clear statement of the most important news point or points. The best lead should have the maximum effect with the minimum phrase without all the auxiliary information that clutters your prose. You should avoid

* A gaggle of secondary detail

* Abstract and general language

* Vagueness

* Emphasis on how something is announced rather than what is said

* Entanglement in the chronology of an event.

A common cause of cardiac arrest in leads is overloading--too many ideas, too much inconsequential detail. Below is a lead that committed just about every mortal sin in clear and concise writing.

 
  A new report finds that the nation's high schools are investing in 
  basic reading proficiency, not only exceeding the minimum state 
  requirements in many instances, but also launching initiatives with a 
  set of objectives that research indicates can contribute to 
  children's ability to read. There is substantial variation among 
  school districts in terms of focus on specific objectives and target 
  groups. However, this variation occurs within the framework of a 
  relatively small set of objectives with grounding in research. 
  Further, a consistent focus on certain goals emerges, such as 
  improving the classroom environment and strengthening the 
  professional development of the teaching workforce. 

This 102-word-long lead puts in just about every finding of the survey. The result is a breathless style that takes the reader all over the place without knowing what the most important point is. Abstract words such as "specific objectives," "substantial variation," and "target groups" did a good job in killing the sentence.

One way to resuscitate the marathon lead is by breaking the sentence into two and putting secondary information in subsequent paragraphs. This helps the reader find the news and encourages him or her to read on for more because the lead is now clearer and perhaps even fun to read.

 
  Washington, D.C.--Schools are exceeding minimum state requirements in 
  pupils' basic reading proficiency while launching initiatives aimed 
  at improving children's reading ability, according to a new report. 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

How to Write a Good Lead
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.