Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.
When I first started writing seriously, I had to learn how to write an introduction for different kinds of writing projects.
And I was confused.
As a new freelancer, I understood right away the importance of the first few words of a piece.
But everybody called it different things. My writing instructor (a former journalist) called it a lede. The copywriting gurus called it a hook. The writing manuals called it a lead and college professors called it an introduction.
I thought I had to write 4 different openings for each piece! (Just kidding.)
First of all, why all the terms?
The term “lede” is a nod to the days when molten lead (the metal) was part of the printing process. Editors and journalists wanted to avoid confusing the metal (lead) with the opening sentences of an article (lead). Same spelling, different pronunciation and meaning.
Copywriters insist on using the term “hook,” which makes sense since they are uber- persuasive. When you read “hook,” you can picture what the words are supposed to do.
Academics have a reputation for longer, multi-syllabic words. So “introduction” works for them.
You can go back and forth all day long about the intricacies of each term and how to write an introduction for different writing projects. But since I’m a practical girl, let’s get to the gist of the matter.
Some writers think of the lead as the first sentence. Some say it’s two or three. Some include the headline or title in the mix. For longer works like a research paper you might think of the lead as the first few paragraphs.
The length depends on the project. And no matter what kind of project, a lead’s purpose is to grab your reader’s attention so that she keeps reading. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing an article, a piece of copywriting, a blog post, a book’s back cover content – your lead is what draws in the reader into your writing project.
I don’t like to read a fun-and-fluff opening sentence in a straight-up news story. On the other hand, a snore-inducing opening line won’t get me to read the rest of a blog post. Different kinds of leads pull me into different pieces of writing. My guess that other readers feel the same.
That’s why leads boil down to two large categories with oodles of variations in each of them.
A summary lead presents your main point – or your most important information – in a concise sentence or two. It’s clear and succinct. Use it when you want to simply present facts or get to the point right away,
Your task in writing a summary lead is to decide what information makes the cut to qualify as “most important” for your writing project. Yep, go with who, what, where, when, why, and how and decide amongst those what needs to be said right out the gate.
When should you use this type of lead?
During an online coaching session last Friday, a new freelance writer challenged her instructor about misspelling “lead” as “lede.” He cited his bias from two decades as a breaking news reporter and referred the student to six reference sources for further clarification.
A provocative quote, a funny anecdote, an intriguing fact, a common misconception, a problem or mystery to be solved, an inspiring promise, a surprising statistic, a comparison, contrast, or conflict, a zinger or punch statement – these creative leads operate as legit “hooks” to draw in the reader.
It’s the surprise or twist that makes a creative lead so successful. You read the opening words and you want to keep reading.
When should you choose this type of lead?
My writing instructor misspelled “lead” as “lede” and then bragged about why he did it.
When it comes to knowing how to write an introduction, there’s good news: all different kinds of leads work. Pick one and write it well.
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