I have discussed news as a form of mass communication in an earlier treatise. Recall that news is a timely report of an odd and catchy event. While news must be informative, it is not every piece of information that qualifies as news.
Very central to news writing is the lead. A lead is defined as the opening paragraph of a news story, which is crisp and has the role of grabbing the readers’ attention. It makes a list of all the things to follow in subsequent paragraphs.
In view of the foregoing, this piece will discuss the basic approach to writing a lead, the types of lead and the guidelines of lead writing.
The article, as a result, will sharpen the ability of news writers and help readers to process news much better. The different points discussed in the essay will also help one do better in other forms of writing such as feature and report writing.
The basic approach to lead writing is the 5W and 1H approach. Put differently, every news must answer the following six questions to fulfil its informative and communicative essence.
The first W is Who. The who question seeks to know the person or persons, identity or identities, involved in a piece of news.
The second W is What, and that concerns the topic of discussion or issue(s) in the news.
The third W is Where which deals with the place or venue of the occurrence.
The fourth W is When, which gives information about the date and the time of a happening.
The last W is Why, which provides information on the reasons and justifications for an action.
The single H question is How, and that accounts for the procedure or process of the occurrence.
This basic approach is not only relevant to lead writing, but also useful in other forms of writing such as feature writing, report writing, et cetera.
To proceed, there are different kinds of lead, but this piece will discuss five major ones. The first type of lead is called the summary lead.
This type of lead gives the crux of the news. It presents the brief of the news in the first paragraph, and such a paragraph serves as the gateway to the body of the story.
In this type of lead, subsequent paragraphs simply supply details, but the news is made clear from the lead.
An example sentence of this lead is: Liz Truss resigns as the prime minister of the UK after one and a half months of assuming office.
Another kind of lead is the delayed lead. In this type of lead, the writer whets the appetite of the readers but leaves the gist of the story to the body of the news.
The delayed lead rides on suspense. An example of the delayed lead is the sentence: The unusual happens in the country, and the whole citizens are in a shambles. There is also the multiple element lead wherein several parts of a story are simultaneously foregrounded in the lead. The sentence below exemplifies this type of lead:
The president resigns, apologises to the citizenry through his Twitter handle and relocates to the Gambia immediately.
The contrast lead is another common kind of lead. As the name implies, it compares and contrasts the elements of a story which could be persons, times or places.
The contrast could be between two different entities or different phases of a single entity.
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For instance, the contrast lead may compare President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure to that of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan or compare Buhari’s era as a military head of state to his era as a civilian president.
The last type of lead to be discussed in this piece is the question lead. It starts with a question, and it is used to raise readers’ curiosity.
An example of such is the sentence: Can any of the 2023 presidential candidates in Nigeria take the country to the promised land?
Having noted that, there are a number of guides for lead writing.
First off, a lead should not be too long. A lead should be between thirty and forty words, yet it must answer the 5H and 1W questions or at least the who and what that make the gist of the story.
A lead should also follow the subject and predicate order. The subject is the performer of an action, whereas the predicate is the action being performed. A lead does not have to be written in flowery or literary language.
Also, the active voice is preferred in lead writing. This is because a lead is usually weak when written in the passive voice. The passive voice is only used in a lead when there is the need to conceal the doer of an action or to emphasise the object (receiver) of an action. Consider the accompanying sentences:
A philanthropist donates ten million naira to build a new school in the village (active voice; conventional way).
Ten million naira has been donated to build a new school in the village (passive voice; actor hidden).
Ten million naira has been donated by a philanthropist to build a new school in the village (passive voice; emphasis on the object which is the amount).
Another major guideline for writing a lead is the need to be decisive on the focal point of the lead.
Consequentially, the news writer should determine which of the 5W questions or 1H question he or she hopes to emphasise in the lead. A lead may foreground the place of an action rather than the persons or time of an event.
In summary, a lead is an essential part of news writing. The knowledge of lead writing is crucial to all writers, especially because such knowledge can be useful in other forms of writing.