Beads of perspiration stung my upper lip and trickled into my eyes as I squinted at my computer screen.
It was the fourth day of record-breaking heat in my New York suburb. My home office’s “energy efficient” air conditioner droned, pretending to extract heat and humidity from the pudding-thick air.
Not that it mattered. It wasn’t the deficient AC—or even the weather—making me sweat.
It was anxiety.
With just two hours to write my post, I was frozen: I couldn’t put together an engaging lede. And without a lede, I couldn’t move forward.
Lede rhymes with bleed.
If you’re a copywriter or journalist you know what it is to wrestle a lede, the torturous segue between headline and body copy.
Hate them or love them—actually, I don’t know anyone who loves them—you have to get a handle on ledes. While digitalization may redefine—and even eliminate—some content formats, ledes remain crucial.
And today they have to work harder and faster than ever.
A killer headline isn’t enough.
You’ve read the dreary facts and figures on reader attention: People are overwhelmed with information and growing more distracted by the minute.
Your reader takes just ten seconds to decide whether or not to read your article, post or marketing tool. A killer headline, we’re assured, is the single most important means to grab your befuddled reader’s eye.
But a headline isn’t enough.
Once you’ve captured her attention, you need to reel your reader in. With a lede.
The lede gives your reader a sense of the story to follow. It piques her curiosity. It promises—directly or indirectly—an engaging tale or useful information.
And it works its magic in a just couple of sentences or paragraphs.
No pressure, right?
Never panic over a lede again: Build a swipe file.
The good news about ledes? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to write them.
Yes, it takes skill to create effective ledes that flow harmoniously with your head and body copy. But it’s a skill you can learn with practice and study of lede masters: skilled journalists, copywriters and writing teachers.
And that’s where a lede swipe file comes in handy.
Whenever you read a great lede, copy it and paste it into your swipe file—I use Evernote to clip and store directly.
Later, take a closer look at the lede. Tease it apart. Identify why it works—how it moves you, pulls you in and entices you to read on.
Once you understand how and why it works, try using a similar lede in your own story.
In addition to lede samples, your swipe file can store lede articles, how-tos, advice and useful posts.
5 resources to help you write great ledes
To get you started with your lede swipe file, here are five of my favorite lede resources:
- The Power of Leads. Poynter Online’s Chip Scanlon describes effective ledes and shares top writers’ opinions on writing them. Great introduction to Poynter, a writers’ resource you’ll want to bookmark and explore.
- Power of Leads Brown Bag. File, read and refer often to this superb lede guide from Poynter. It includes samples of award-winning ledes, exercises in lede-writing, tips on revising ledes and list of lede resources. Download the Poynter Power of Leads Brown Bag.
- Lexicon of Leads. Not sure what kind of lede to use? Scan this helpful post that lists ledes by type, illustrating each with examples and pithy descriptions. Check out the Lexicon of Leads.
- The Lead from News Reporting and Writing. Get lede examples, analysis and advice from the man who wrote the book: Melvin Mensher, professor emeritus at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Read The Lead, a chapter from Mensher’s classic tome, News Reporting and Writing.
- 52 Ways to Write Interesting Leads or Introductions. Okay, sometimes you don’t need to read a thesis on ledes—you just need some quick ideas. You’ll find them in this lede list post.
What’s your lead on ledes?
How do you wrestle ledes? Care to share your lede-writing resources?
Photo courtesy of Jeferonix.