Let’s Look at Ledes

According to Wikipedia the spelling lede is no longer classified as journalism jargon in major US dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster and American Heritage; this, I’m afraid, ruins its purpose.

Intentionally misspelled so it would stand out during typesetting (as were hed and dek) its declassification makes it irrelevant for its original purpose.

Still, whether you spell it lede or lead, the first paragraph of any written piece has one purpose: to give the reader the information they need to decide if they want to continue reading.

In academic essays a lede is often the first paragraph, which summarizes the outline of the argument and conclusion to follow in the main body of the piece. In news stories the lede must answer who, what, where, why and when. But in magazine articles writers have a little more freedom, leading to many different types of ledes.

The News Lede

Even though magazines allow for more flexibility, some writers will prefer to get straight to the point and use a news style lede as their intro. By putting the most important information right up front they allow readers to determine immediately whether or not they are interested in the content of the piece.

Example of a News Lede from Time Magazine:

It rained on southern Louisiana Thursday night, May 12 — and that made fears along the lower Mississippi River rise as high as the Big Muddy’s already dangerously swollen levels. The Mississippi grew to 43.4 ft., almost 20 ft. above its normal mark at Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge, and even more rain is forecast for today. Heading into the weekend, state officials are faced with an ugly reality: the river keeps rising even though they’ve opened more than half the bays on a spillway that diverts raging floodwaters around the city of New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico. [Read More]

The Funnel

A funnel lead draws a reader in by beginning with a statement that readers can relate easily to, then gradually becomes more specific. This type of lede can be particularly effective for pieces about less relatable topics; it can be used to make a fairly dry subject matter (like gourmet pet food, in the example below) something easier for readers to relate to.

Example of a Funnel Lede from Pet Business Magazine (that I wrote):

The word gourmet has long been associated with luxury. Going out to eat at a gourmet restaurant comes with the expectation of an exotic, mouth-watering meal. When buying gourmet, consumers expect to experience something uncommon–whether that’s soup made from a puffer fish or perfectly aged beef.

Those expectations are no different in the pet industry. [Read More]

The Switchback

A switchback lede begins by leading the reader to believe one thing, then contradicts that belief. It challenges the reader, illustrating why the story is important by showing them how things aren’t as they might have seemed. In the example below readers might assume things are going along swimmingly with no change in sight; and then they hit that last sentence and suddenly are hooked.

Example of a Switchback Lede from Pet Business Magazine:

It has been a phenomenal decade for the pet industry. Poised to break the $50-billion mark in total sales this year, the market for pet products has nearly doubled in size since 2001, when total spending on these products was just $28.5 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).

But changing consumer demographics may soon put this success in peril. [Read More]

The Anecdotal

Also known as the “story” lede, an Anecdotal lead draws the reader in by telling him or her a story; sometimes the story is part of the grander piece, but often it is just a way of illustrating a later point. In the example below it’s the story of how a couple met–the piece is about marriage.

Example of an Anecdotal Lede in Esquire Magazine:

Back when we were in college, Lee and I had summer jobs working for Parks Canada. Part of my job included dressing up as Boomer, the Parks Canada Beaver. Part of Lee’s official duties was to act as the “beaver handler.”

She was terrible at it.

My costume meant a lot of things — I was hot, I was humiliated, I spent a lot of time staring at the strange yellow stains inside my giant Styrofoam head — but mostly, it meant that I couldn’t really see. [Read more]

{Image credit: Flickr.com user Chrysaora}

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