All You Ever Wanted to Know About Ledes, But Were Afraid to Ask
In the ocean of electronic distractions, writers catch their reader’s attention using click-bait headlines. However, merely capturing the attention of the reader is not enough, we need to hold it. This is where compelling ledes come into the picture.
Headlines are the tease, the bait, used to capture a reader’s attention. Ledes are the net that we cast out to keep the reader’s attention once they enter the page. If your lede is weak or loose, then the reader will just move on to the next shiny article on the web.
Here’s everything you wanted to know about ledes but were afraid to ask.
What are ledes?
A lede is the opening sentence of an article. It is an artwork of concise information that captures the gist of an article in one sentence. Good ledes dive headfirst into the topic and bring readers up to speed quickly. Ledes are commonly classified into seven types. These are straight, anecdotal, narrative, zinger, observational, scene-setting, and question.
Before you begin to experiment with different types of ledes, you need to be well-versed with some cardinal rules.
The do’s and don’ts of writing a good lede
“Write 50 draft ledes and pick the best one” - Donald Murray
Most of us want to know how to write a gripping lead. However, in order to get there, you need to understand the differences between a bad lede, a good lede, and a compelling lede.
Bad ledes are shopworn, overwrought, and jargon-ish. Writers who indulge in such clichéd ledes do it at the expense of their reader’s time and patience.
“It was just another ordinary day where jack and jill climbed the mountain like they usually do, to fetch a pail of water. Nothing looked out of the ordinary except for the fact that Jill’s shoes looked a bit more muddy than usual.“
Good ledes are free from cheesy corporate lingo and take a straightforward approach. These type of ledes set the tone, voice, and direction of the topic.
“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water”
Compelling ledes spike the reader’s curiosity and entice them into reading the entire article.
“Jack suffered a skull fracture and Jill is in serious condition after the pair tumbled down a hill during their ritual water-carrying chores yesterday.”
Unlike the former examples, the compelling lede plays on the reader’s emotions to keep them hooked. However, you can’t take the same approach to every article. So, when is it okay to agitate or play with emotions?
That is a great question and unfortunately, it does not hold a simple answer. The following table supplies the standard DOs and DON’Ts of writing a compelling lede.
Don’t write a lede like this!
The HR landscape is a dense forest with rocky terrain. While you can use the stars (excel sheets and paper files) to navigate, venturing deep into the woods without a beacon of light (technology) might make you stumble over the sticks and stones (complex process & pain points).
It is narrative, flowery, and verbose. Your readers will be lost in the visual imagery here and forget the real intention. After all, you don’t want them to appreciate your writing skills, at the end of the day, you just want to push them towards a sale. In such cases, this kind of messaging will be counterproductive.
Try something like this!
Navigating the HR management minefield without an HRMS is a tricky challenge.
Here, we have used an anecdote to emphasize the tricky nature of HR management. This lede is perfect for an HR-centric article which focuses on the cons of manual processing. We have not only kept it short and straightforward but also set the direction and tone of the article.
Best practices for writing a compelling lede
1. Keep it short
Offer all the information that your readers will need. However, try to restrict the word count to 10–15 words. (60 to 80 characters)
2. Keep it simple
Avoid clutter like unnecessary adjectives and anecdotes. Ensure that you don’t discuss more than one idea in a lede, else it can be rather confusing.
3. Use active voice
Passive voice will often drag your sentences and kill its essence. So, wherever possible be direct and use active voice.
4. Structure your ledes properly
Always place the most crucial information at the beginning of your lede. Park secondary information for subsequent sentences. If you “bury the lede”, by postponing the usage of essential points or facts, your readers may lose interest and just move on.
5. Understand the context
When your readers already know about the topic, it is better to not beat around the bush and waste their time. Write your ledes in such a way that it refreshes their memory and adds useful information.
6. Be Honest
Don’t ever try to mislead your reader. If you made a promise in your headline, you should ensure that your lede fulfills that promise.
Types of ledes
As mentioned earlier, ledes can be classified into seven distinct types. They are
Straight ledes don’t beat around the bush. They dive straight into the heart of the topic. Here’s an example of a straight lede.
“Smaller teams are more productive” — Vivek Madurai
In this article, the author wanted to emphasize on using agile teams to build microservices and so rather than using anecdotes or other imagery, dived right into the heart of the topic.
Anecdotal ledes use a relevant story to attract the reader. Here, the intro will explain the connection to the anecdote used and enhance the article’s broader point of view.
“I often tend to think of myself as the Mowgli at OrangeScape. A kid lost in a strange world who is trying to comprehend the things around him.”
Here, the author describes himself as Mowgli, the character from Jungle Book. And the next sentence explains the connection precisely. People who are familiar with the jungle book can comprehend the writer’s emotions instantly.
Narrative ledes describe the personal experience of the writer. It is only used when the writer can offer a valuable perspective that can illuminate the article.
“People judge; I was not an exception. We are culturally trained to comment on things that happen in front of us.”
The author narrates her personal experiences with people’s judgmental nature. Everyone must have faced such criticism at one point or another, so readers form an instant connection with the article.
Observational ledes provide an authoritative and relevant observation of a scenario and explain how it fits within the larger picture.
“You’re having a deep conversation with an amazing guy, he is pouring out his heart to you, he speaks to you as if you are the solution to all his problems.”
The author uses her observations to establish a solid connection with the broader context of the article’s subject matter. Her casual and simple observations keep readers hooked to the article.
Zinger ledes are dramatic, unusual, and gripping. They spike the curiosity of readers and grab their attention instantly. Here’s a perfect example of attention
“Sometimes it’s the princess who kills the dragon :)”
Here, the author uses a strong tone to create powerful yet unusual imagery. It was very effective because she backs up her zinger lede with a hard set of facts.
The scene-setting lead describes the scene, situation, or the instance where this article takes place.
“A workplace where both humans and computers co-exist will have better outcomes opposed to a workplace where humans and computers work in silos.”
— Steffi S
The author’s description draws a reader into the article, irrespective of the fact whether or not they agree with her argument. This lede plays a crucial role in preparing readers for what’s waiting ahead in the article.
Question ledes start an article with a question. Although they are effective in sparking interest, these are used sparingly since it is rather hard to reflect the major points in a story concisely.
“Is there any product out there in the market, that has no setback at all?”
This lede strikes a chord instantly. It makes readers ponder and anticipate the direction in which the article will eventually travel.
The first sentence of your article is everything. It can either make or break your article’s success. When you lay down the groundwork to create a compelling lede, half your content research would be done, the direction and the tone of your article will be set, and best of all, it will grab your reader’s attention and never let go.
Stick to the best practices mentioned above. Write, rewrite, and keep writing until you find the perfect lede. Eventually, you’ll come up with a lede that conveys the core of your article clearly and effectively!