Writing for the Web is a skill that’s easy to learn but difficult to master. One of the hardest elements is concocting a great lede; ledes being the one chance you have of persuading readers to commit to an article in full. Which is exactly what you’re doing in your head right about now.
What Is A Lede?
A lede, also known as a lead or intro, is that collection of words you see above you. It’s an introduction, an opener, an invitation to read further. Ledes exist in all forms of media, and burying the lede is generally considered to be a sinful act.
Ledes need to convey the essence of the longer piece they’re introducing. Traditional journalism dictates you reveal the who, what, where, when, why, and how. But writing for the Web requires a slightly different approach, as we’re about to discover.
The following tips will help you learn the essentials to crafting a good lede. Unfortunately, as with most things in life, only practice makes perfect. Think of this article as a starting point, with the endpoint — and writing ledes becoming second nature — following a few years into the future.
#1 Keep It Short
People have short attention spans at the best of times, but this is especially true when they’re browsing the Web. There are a wealth of arresting articles, fantastic features, and worthy websites all vying for eyeballs, so there is little point in presenting casual browsers with a long lede and hoping they will read all the way to the end. To put it simply, they won’t.
For this reason it’s important to pare your lede down to just one or two paragraphs. The average reader will happily commit to reading a lede of this length, and, combined with a compelling title, they will wring all the information necessary from it to know whether they want to read further.
#2 Grab Their Attention
One or two paragraphs doesn’t provide much room to pull someone gently into the warm embrace of a long article. So you have to grab a reader’s attention almost immediately. In order to do this a lot of websites employ a strategy of offering vague promises of wonderment, but these are cheap gimmicks you would do well to avoid if you want to build a lasting relationship with your audience.
Don’t offer readers the world, instead offer them a concise appeal to read further. Make actual promises rather than vague promises, thereby offering an insight into what an individual will gain from reading further down the page. Tell them what they will learn and/or how they will be entertained. And always try to lure them into following you down the rabbit hole.
#3 Impart Informal Information
The Web is a freer environment than a traditional newsroom, so while a newspaper journalist with a big scoop needs to reveal the main thrust of the story within those opening paragraphs, those of us writing for the Web can bend and break the rules. In fact, there are no hard and fast rules, just advice.
This lack of a rigid set of rules means you can forgo the desire to pass all the relevant information on to potential readers. Sure, they need to be told the essence of the article, but without being weighed down by the extra facts and figures which will be revealed later on in the piece.
#4 Use A Clever Hook
The content contained further in any individual article should be strong enough for you to feel justified in posting it online in the hopes that someone will read it. But employing a clever hook in the lede can help draw people in. Otherwise they may never get to read the words of wisdom you have carefully penned below your opener.
Literary hooks come in various shapes and sizes. But they all share the same common denominator; existing in order to gently persuade people to continue reading.
Examples include trailing off mid-sentence and suggesting more is to follow, opening with a quote that only gets contextualized further down the article, and offering a hint of a startling revelation that is revealed in full much later in the piece.
#5 Leave Ledes To Last
Finally, and most importantly, is leaving the lede until last. This may sound like a bizarre piece of advice, but it’s the only way you’ll truly know you’ve achieved all you can with your chosen lede.
By all means have a lede in mind when you start writing an article or blog post for the Web. But don’t commit anything to paper (or at least screen) until the rest of the article is finished. At which point you’ll know exactly what the essence of the piece is and be more able to judge what tone, style, and structure will work for the lede on that particular article.
This article is all about ledes, so finishing up with a set of important conclusions seems a little unnecessary. If you have read this far then you’re now better equipped to write a great lede than you were previously. And now you must excuse me as I have a lede to write for this very piece. How did I do?
Image Credits: Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr, Dyanna Hyde via Flickr, Nomadic Lass via Flickr, Shaylor via Flickr, Lord Jim via Flickr, Lilivanili via Flickr, Simply CVR via Flickr