Sometimes getting the first, or lead, paragraph right is the hardest thing about writing a story. Whether it’s a blog post, a short video or podcast or even an opinion column, get it right, and the rest of the content will flow. Remember there are seven main lead sentence styles that can set the scene to draw audiences in. Try writing one or two of these then choose the one that you feel works best.
This answers the 5Ws of the story, (who, what, where, how, why, when) in one sentence and is usually the best choice for a news story. A Company is launching A Product at A Trade Show taking place On A Date, in A Town. The reader gets the all the facts at a glance and can make a decision about where it’s worthwhile to read on.
Good for longer feature stories or op-eds, this lead can be effective in drawing readers in. What has wheels, is green and everyone is jumping on it? The environmental bandwagon is rolling through marketing departments of large corporations all over the western world as companies seek to appeal to ethically motivated millennials. This raises curiosity with the question and explains issue being discussed in the answer. Avoid using questions that require a yes/no answer. Have you made your will yet? The risk is the reader will think: No I’m not interested, and then hit delete. Or, he or she might think: Yes so I don’t need this info, and then hit delete.
Using statistics and hard facts up front can gain immediate interest and encourages the reader to go further into the story. Fifty per cent of working mothers fail to prepare healthy family meals because they ‘just don’t have the time’, according to a survey conducted by A Meal Preparation Company. The target audience will identify regardless of which side of the issue they fall on.
Quotation lead 1
Drawing on well-known sayings and famous quotes gives immediate context. Mark Twain once said that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated; this could also be said of a faithful PR tool…the news release. Most people are familiar withe the quote and they understand it to mean: don’t take reports at face value. They now have the context to read on to find out why the news release remains a useful communications tool.
Quotation lead 2
This one is a first cousin of the factual lead and is a great way to report on events and speeches and for comment stories. It pushes a quote from someone featured in the story to the top “There was no collusion. Everybody knows there was no collusion” is a good example of quotation lead for a story about a recent Trump rally. “I don’t think I’ll have a career after this.” This quote led many of the news stories that resulted when Kathy Griffen apologized for her bad-taste Trump joke.
This lead offers the reader a glimpse at the feelings, results and specifics of the story you are writing. For example: “Leo Muldoon, now 78 and gone grey, grew up on the farm where he nearly died Sept. 21, one of 12 kids raised in an old brick homestead with no running water, set deep on a fertile plain around Dunrobin.” This is the opening sentence of a three-sentence lead paragraph used to tell a story of a survivor of a weather disaster.
This is where you draw a picture with words to put your reader into the scene and is very effective for longer feature stories. It was a dark and stormy night. This example clichéd but it makes the point. Here’s a longer example: Sitting in the food court of a busy suburban mall, the yummy mummies were ignoring their designer prams while greedily gulping down lattes and exchanging lively banter among themselves. Readers can picture themselves in the scene and, in a sense, become part of the story.
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