How to Write a Breaking News Lead

Three steps to writing an effective lead: Identifying the actual news, deciding which details to include, and writing the information in a simple yet powerful sentence.

Ideally, journalism blends accuracy and art into a concise, informative article for public knowledge. Achieving a sense of urgency and composure in an article’s first sentence, also known as a lead, can be difficult, but writing a lead that presents the most pressing news with a punch helps the rest of the article fall into place. After researching, interviewing, and organing the information, it’s time to write an essay online.

1. What is the actual news?

  • Determine the real news (the most pressing, exciting fact) and include only information directly relevant to that fact in a lead.
  • One way to distinguish the lead from the rest of the information is to pretend you’ve just left the event. You rush home to tell your family. What would be the first thing out of your mouth? The first sentence or two clues you to what your pressing news is.

2. What details should be included?

  • Once the main fact is identified, filter through any other necessary facts to include in the lead. Typically, do not include names, specific times, precise locations, or anything overly detailed in the lead unless it is relevant.
  • If the person is well-known to the audience, then include the name, otherwise save the details and explanations for later in the article. Similarly with time and place, only the day of the week and the city, state, or country where it took place are usually relevant unless the news happened because of the time or place.
  • Always concentrate on the specific audience and fill in only the details that are necessary to support the importance of the news. Whether to include who, when, where, why, what, and how will vary. Make the lead short, snappy, and to the point. Rarely should a lead include an introduction to the news, especially if it sensationalizes.

3. How should the lead be worded?

  • With the news and relevant details of the lead in hand, all that remains is ordering the words most efficiently and effectively to present the point of the story in one simple sentence. Try not to use introductory clauses or too many commas, which slow down the pace of the story.
  • Avoid the passive voice: a mysterious subject acting out a verb (The ball was bounced). Instead, use a subject acting out a verb (Sara bounced the ball). Not only will this sound better, but it gives more details in less space.
  • If wording the sentence is difficult, try reading articles similar to the one you are writing, and even thinking about how a newscaster on television opens a story can be a clue on how to word the lead.

Remember that by writing one or two powerful sentences to open the article, half the article’s challenges have been battled. Once writing a lead is mastered, the rest of the article will fall into place because the lead is just the first of many facts in an article listed from most important to least important.