Writing story leads
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Writing Story Leads. Chapter 6. Objectives. After this unit, you should Understand the elements of lead (rhymes with seed) writing Understand the inverted pyramid structure Know how to write the traditional AP, or summary lead

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  • After this unit, you should

    • Understand the elements of lead (rhymes with seed) writing

    • Understand the inverted pyramid structure

    • Know how to write the traditional AP, or summary lead

    • Feel comfortable writing inventive, colorful leads for all kinds of stories

    • Recognize good and bad story leads

    • Know which lead techniques to avoid

Leads the basics
Leads—The Basics

  • Most frequently the first paragraph of the news story

  • Some leads, really more like introductions, can run several paragraphs

  • It is the most important paragraph of any story.

  • It is where you win or lose the reader

  • Lead must have impact and come to the point quickly.

  • Leads must grab a reader’s attention.

The inverted pyramid
The Inverted Pyramid

  • A device used by journalists to catch their readers’ attention

  • The broad part where the main facts go is the lead.

  • As the pyramid narrows, the facts become less significant until, as you reach the bottom, the facts may not be essential

Example of inverted pyramid
Example of Inverted Pyramid

Central High defeated Tech High last night, 23-0

All-State Senior Rodney Morris scored twice for the Rams with a 27-yard run in the first quarter and a plunge over the goal line in the second.

Sophomore Curtis Jones missed his first conversion attempt but then booted a 29-yard field goal later in the game.

Quarterback Jules Murphy, senior, led a 35-yard Pistons march downfield early in the first quarter, but was stopped by a toughening Rams defense.

The Pistons have lost their past three games . Central is now tied for first in the league with Lincoln South.

Reasons to use the i p
Reasons to use the I.P.

  • Natural way to tell a story—when you tell a friend about a game, you begin by telling who won—you don’t start with the kickoff.

  • Enables the reader to get the essential information without reading the entire story.

  • An aid for the headline writer because the essential facts are right at the top.

  • Makes it easy for the story to be shortened—you can just cut from the bottom up.

The ap or summary lead
The “AP,” or Summary, Lead

  • The Associated Press—or AP—is famous for straightforward, no-nonsense writing.

  • Their leads are short, to the point, and filled with information

  • These leads are not creative, but they convey information quickly.

  • They work well with the traditional inverted-pyramid stories.

Examples of ap leads
Examples of AP Leads

  • A three-alarm fire Friday destroyed several fuel storage tanks just outside Centerville, injuring three firefighters and causing an estimated $1 million in damage.

  • The City Council voted unanimously Monday to begin planning for a major study of the city’s traffic patterns.

  • Seniors Juan Garcia and Mara Jo Shanahan were named Nov. 12 as King and Queen of Homecoming.

Ap or summary lead formula
AP or Summary Lead Formula

  • As a beginning journalist, using this formula is fine:

  • Start with the news (“Traffic is smothering the city”)

  • And follow it with who said it (“an urban-affairs specialist said”)

  • And the time element (Tuesday)

    Lead: Traffic is smothering the city, an urban-affairs specialist told Optimist Club members Tuesday.

Examples from a high school paper
Examples from a high school paper

  • With a key win against Manhattan, the varsity girls’ team snapped a three-way tie for the Centennial league title two weeks ago.

  • Promoted as the first dance of the year, the Back to School dance was held on Friday, Sept. 2.

Writing the lead
Writing the Lead

  • Picture the reader (you know what you want them to know)

  • You know the reader has choices

  • Don’t bore your reader with a lead he or she has seen a thousand times.

  • Don’t always use the AP/Summary style lead.

Getting inspired
Getting Inspired

  • Take a walk

  • Take a deep breath

  • Pretend you are writing a letter

  • Look to novels, magazines, etc.

Be objective and be creative
Be Objective and Be Creative!

  • Do not put your opinion into a lead for a news or feature story (or anywhere else in the story).

  • Make sure you use facts and don’t distort the story.

  • The best leads are the ones that tell the story the best.

  • Leads are good when they make the reader want to read the rest of the story.

The quote lead and the question lead
The Quote Lead and the Question Lead

  • Should not be used very often.

  • Quote leads can lead to distortion—the reporter pulls one quote out of the story and slaps it at the top, and sometimes it changes the meaning.

  • Question leads contain no information, they simply ask a question

Some criteria to evaluate leads
Some Criteria to Evaluate Leads

  • Does the lead summarize the main facts of the story in one or two sentences?

  • Is it written in a succinct and direct, yet interesting way?

  • Does the lead avoid expressing the writer’s opinion?

  • Has the writer avoided beginning with a question or a quote?

  • Is the lead correctly punctuated and free from capitalization and spelling errors?


  • Cut out 7 leads and beginning of stories (about the first 4 paragraphs).

  • Glue/tape the leads onto typing paper.

  • Write a paragraph (3-5 sentences) next to each lead describing why the lead is good/not good, suggestions to make the lead better, how the lead is written (summary, question, quote, creative, etc.)

  • Complete the Lead Worksheet