Step Up Your Game — Quit Burying the Lede
It’s the best improvement you can make to your writing: Quit burying the lede.
Bury the lede:
“To begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts” (Wiktionary).
Get to the good part first.
Your content is good. You have the right facts and tone. But your words are in the wrong order. What you have is an annoying habit, not an article.
Stop trying to weave a tale. Get me to the next line.
Tell me why I should care enough to read further.
Tell me the main interesting facts about who, what, where, why, or when.
Tell me the takeaway of your article: What is your conclusion? What is the overall significance? Why should I care enough to read the whole thing?
For online reading, especially news reading, know this: I am already looking for a reason to click somewhere else.
My mouse is hovering over that exit button. I dare you: Give me one reason to leave, and I’ll do it.
- I dare you: Write a long sentence.
- I dare you: Use demanding grammar.
- I dare you: Keep me waiting for your point.
Each sentence has to carry its weight.
Shorter is better. Don’t set up the story. I don’t care. Tell me the point. Right now. Every sentence stands before the jury and pleads “Not boring.”
If even one sentence bores the reader and breaks the chain, he will leave.
Another article awaits. And he should leave. Because other websites took the trouble to be interesting.
Do you even want to retain your reader? Then put some thought into how to do it.
For online news and opinion, two things matter most: the headline and the first line. Please put more than 60 seconds into writing them.
Use the best practices of journalism. Explore the theory behind the terms:
- The Inverted Pyramid
- News Style
- Avoiding “Burying the Lede”
Here are five refresher articles on the concepts. Please review this material thoroughly.
- Inverted pyramid (journalism)
- News style
- Don’t Bury the Lede
- How to Avoid Burying the Lede of Your News Story
- Writing advice that pays: Don’t bury the lede
It’s one rule with several applications:
Don’t bury the lede on the “macro”, the “mid”, or the “micro” level.
Macro Level: Consider the whole piece. Put the most important part in the first paragraph.
Mid Level: Consider each paragraph. Put the most important part in the first sentence.
Micro Level: Consider each sentence. Put the most important part early in the sentence, not late.
Re-write one of your existing articles.
1. Find a piece you think might be boring. Assess it. Take notes, but don’t start editing the piece itself. Use the following steps:
2. Look at the macro level. What did you mainly want the piece to say?
3. Did you say that in the first paragraph? Yes/No.
4. Did you put your most important secondary point in the second paragraph, and so on (third and fourth paragraphs etc.) in decreasing order?
5. Look at the mid level. In each paragraph did you say the most important thing in the first sentence? Yes/No.
6. Look at the micro level. Find some long sentences. In these sentences did you say the most important thing early in the sentence, not late?
7. Now re-write the entire piece — without even looking at the first version. Start by writing an outline of all the main points and supporting points. Then write your piece quickly. Don’t stop to edit.
After re-writing a single piece by this method, you will understand the idea. It will soon become a mindset and a habit.
Do you always need a written outline? For a couple of years, probably. Eventually, you’ll be able to create the outline in your mind for topics you know well.