How Not to Write Article Leads

Macworld Editor Jason Snell (@jsnell) posted a quick series of “Editor’s laments” today on Twitter that are a great reference for how not to start articles. If you’ve had any journalistic training, you should know these and avoid them, but I still see them all the time. (And as Jason posted them, I tried to think if I’d broken any of them. I’m sure have at one point or another, especially #3.)

I have more trouble writing leads (or “ledes” if you prefer that spelling) than any other part of an article; I trip up on writing conclusions, too. I’ll typically run through a dozen or more leads when I write, sometimes rewriting the same ones over just to get my brain into gear. This always frustrating process is part of what inspired me to come up with TextRedactor for this year’s TidBITS April Fools issue (see “FrownOnMyMac Fills New Mac Niches,” 2009-04-01).

So, as you’re struggling to compose that first paragraph of your next article, keep these “don’ts” in mind:

Editor’s Lament #1: The dictionary definition lede. “Webster’s defines baseball as a sport played with four bases and a ball…”

Editor’s Lament #2: The “under a rock” lede. “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the French Open final is Sunday.”

Editor’s Lament #3: The ol’ if-then. “If you’re a fan of pencils, then you’ll love Virtual Pencil from the app store!”

Editor’s Lament #4: The common thing that isn’t. “We all know that when you’re trapped in a bathysphere, you’ll need to kill some time!”

  1. Glenn Fleishman June 6, 2009 at 8:38 am

    The one that drives me crazy isn’t the lede thing — it’s the question in the story.
    Reporters often get lazy the longer you go down in a story, and instead of framing quotes, like,
    Johnson says he’s secure in the future. “I can’t be fired; I know where the launch codes are.” Launch codes are short sequences of numbers that handle nuclear missile activation.
    You get:
    Does Johnson have the launch codes? “Yes. I can’t be fired. I know where the launch codes are.” And will he reveal them? “No.” And is this tedious? “Yes.”


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