Pilgrim's lead guidelines

Some guidelines for leads

1. Put the most important W at or near the beginning of the lead
Example: President Obama [the who] visited Bellingham [what] Tuesday night to tell local Democrats he supports Democratic opponents to their candidates in upcoming local elections.
Ex. A strike by postal workers appears to be a certainty [what] after union members walked out of a meeting Monday in Washington, D.C.

2. Keep the lead short -- 19 to 26 words is a good range. Anytime it comes up very short or long of this, you should become reassess carefully what you have written.

3. Avoid long titles in leads. Save them until the second paragraph.

4. Avoid names in leads -- unless the person is so prominent most of your readers will readily recognize it. Save the name until the second paragraph, where you will expand on the lead.

5. Avoid complex sentence structures. Instead, strive for Subject - Verb - Object structure.

Example of lead to avoid:
Following a long walk in the woods during which he admired the healthy pine trees of the Pacific Northwest and commented on the beauty of his surroundings, President Obama said in Bellingham early this morning he plans not to seek a second term in office.

6. Follow the style guide. Write correctly.

7. Apply the news values:

(1. timeliness (when)

2. prominence (who)

3. proximity (where)

4. unusualness or human interest (what)

5. conflict (what/why)

6. impact or consequences (what/why)

7. audience (importance/interest to your reader)

8. AVOID topic and long direct-quotation leads. (Topic leads usually use the words ON or ABOUT.)

Preferred Lead:

Sexual connotations in American literature are not real but are the product of sick-minded literary critics, a WWU journalism professor told a book publisher's convention today at Western Washington University. [Lead paragraph of a story]

Speaking to the Pacific Northwest Publishers Association in the Performing Arts Center at 10 a.m., Tim Pilgrim, associate professor of journalism, said that rarely do poets and novelists intend the sexual meaning that critics read into poems and stories.[Second paragraph expanding on the story]

Topic lead & non-prominent person (avoid this type of lead):

Tim Pilgrim spoke about sex in literature on the WWU campus this morning.

Direct Quote lead (avoid):

"I am disturbed by the amount of sex that some literary critics, including some I know, find in a lot of the poems and novels that are being published in America today," a journalism professor said on the WWU campus this morning.

Updated 2010