Tips for Writing Leads

"Blogging?" uploaded by Anonymous Account on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

“Blogging?” uploaded by Anonymous Account on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The first sentence or sentences of a story is called the lead. It is the most important element of a news story because it conveys to readers the main idea and convinces them to keep reading.

Other important documents:

  • How to Write for GV Best practices for writing and reporting a GV story.
  • Style Guide Information about GV stylistic standards.
  • Posting Guide Technical information about creating posts including text formatting styles and instructions for dealing with images and video.

What's the best way to write a lead? Follow these tips.

Keep it short

Leads should be no longer than 35 words. Peel your story down to the core. Ask yourself: What is the main idea? What is unique, or important or odd about the story?

EXAMPLE: With a twist of humor, moral and technical support has been pouring in across social media sites for Japan's “corporate slaves” or shachiku as they are referred to in Japanese slang.- Japan's Corporate Slaves Put Humor to Hard Work

Stick to one idea

When possible, the lead should contain one idea. That idea should be easy to grasp; complexities should be simplified.

EXAMPLE: Brazilian riot police violently evicted a group of indigenous people from a former museum they had occupied in Rio de Janeiro to make way for 2014 World Cup construction.- Brazil Violently Ousts Indigenous Village Ahead of World Cup

Build in the human connection

Highlight the personal relevance of the story whenever possible. Talk about jobs instead of employment, homes instead of accommodation and students instead of education.

EXAMPLE: If you are in Cyprus, your life's savings hangs in the balance, as the government deliberates a controversial €10 billion bailout agreement reached with the Eurogroup that puts the country's saving deposits down as collateral.- Cyprus Cuts Access to Banks Amid Bailout Crisis

Use concrete words

The subject should be a concrete noun that the reader can hear, see, taste, feel or smell. According to the book Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writer, “Abstract words should be chased out in favor of specific, concrete words. Sentences should be full of bricks, beds, houses, cars, cows, men and women. Details should drive out generality.”

EXAMPLE: China's crackdown on extravagance and banqueting has sent official fine dining underground. Local governments have turned in-house cafeterias into fine restaurants and hosted lavish private dinners in their homes in order to avoid being seen indulging in public.- Official Fine Dining Goes Underground as China Curbs Excesses

Read it aloud

How does it sound? Is it easy to read? Does the language flow, or does it sound choppy? Is it clear the first time you read it? Ask how you would tell the story to your mother or to a friend. The written word, while more formal, should never be too far removed from the spoken language.


Being a calendar

Don’t start the lead with the day that the news happened. Avoid adding exact days and dates to the lead unless they are intrinsic to the story.

Starting with a quote

Delayed leads that begin with a question or a direct quote are tricky to pull off. Avoid them if possible.


Avoid writing leads that sensationalize the news or stray from the story’s main idea. Leads need to be relevant to the story. Leave opinions out of it.

Repeating the headline

Instead, compliment the lead. Don’t forget that readers skim over the headline right before they read the lead.


Keep long titles, unnecessary attribution, jargon, unfamiliar names, or little-known places out of the lead Ask yourself, does a particular detail add to your lead or clutter it? The Associated Press tells its reporters, “When a lead moves beyond 20-25 words it's time to start trimming.” Some of the extra baggage they suggest cutting:

  • Unnecessary attribution
  • Compound sentences joined by “but” and “and”
  • Exact dates and times unless essential

Remember details can be used in the paragraph that follows the lead.

EXAMPLE: Residents in Porto Alegre are threatening to climb and occupy century-old trees in southern Brazil to save them from being axed for an expansion project in preparations for the 2014 World Cup. (Lead)
Porto Alegre is one of the twelve main cities in Brazil to host the premier international football event, held every four years. The city is known for the green canopy its old towering trees form over the streets. In fact, Porto Alegre's Gonçalo de Carvalho has been called the “most beautiful street” in the world. (Detail)

- Century-Old Trees Face the Axe in Brazil