One of principles of journalistic best practices is the art of writing an effective lead. In this week’s Writing Principles for Bloggers series, I will explain what it means to start your post with an effective lead, talk about why effective leads are important for bloggers, and provide concrete tips for how to craft an effective lead. So, let’s get started!
Writing Principles for Bloggers: Effective Lead
What is an effective lead?
A few weeks ago, we discussed ‘Bottom Line Up Front’ (BLUF), and how implementing this writing principle could dramatically improve the focus and impact of your writing. Writing an effective lead is one of the best ways to put the bottom line up front. The lead typically refers to the first one to two sentences in your post. It is the introduction and provides the reader with their first impression of your blog post. In particular, the lead tells the reader exactly what they should expect if they continue to read.
There are many types of effective leads that are suitable for differing writing styles. However, the one thing they have in common is that an effective lead hooks the reader. An effective lead makes the reader want to read more. Many journalists consider the lead to be the most important part of a news article. It is crisp, concise, sets the tone for the article, and gives the most important information up front (hence, its direct correlation to BLUF).
Are effective leads important for bloggers too?
Why wouldn’t a blogger want to use effective leads in their posts? A blogger is essentially a citizen journalist, right? If your goal is to keep your reader’s attention, and perhaps keep them coming back for more, there is hardly a better way to accomplish this goal than by crafting an effective lead. It has been said in blogging circles, that the most important thing you can do as a blogger is write killer content. Well, killer content starts with an effective lead.
Granted, if you write a great lead but the rest of your post is dumb, the lead won’t get you very far. However, if your post is brilliant but no one bothers to read beyond the first paragraph, you might as well draw a stick figure and call it Picasso. Who cares?
Here is another reason why effective leads are important for bloggers– if you boil your post down to a one to two sentence summary, it will really help focus your writing. Granted, a basic craft or recipe post may not suffer from ‘the rambles,’ but we have all read posts that are all over the place. If you want to make money blogging, your blog posts can not be a rambling, stream of consciousness mess.
Take the time to root out the essential elements of your post. Why will anyone care to read your post? What profound insights do you provide? What value are you adding to your readers’ lives? If you can boil your post down to its most essential meaning, that is your lead. So, lead your post with it!
How can I craft an effective lead?
A good rule of thumb for crafting an effective lead is to provide the 5 W’s and the 1 H. These are commonly referred as the essential elements of information (EEIs).
Do you need to have all of the EEIs in every lead? Of course not! EEIs are typically used to report news of an event. Many blog posts will not be able to answer the questions raised by every EEI. Your post should answer some of them though. Look at the lead I provided for this blog post. I answered all the EEIs in two short sentences:
- Who?– bloggers
- What?– an effective lead
- Where?– Writing Principles for Bloggers series
- When?– this week
- Why?– it is a best practice of journalism
- How?– by telling you what an effective lead is, why you should care, and tips for how to do it
In less than 10 seconds of reading, you knew exactly what this post would be about. If I started the post with a rambling story about my dog or some sentimental quip about last night’s sunset.. you might be amused, but you might also not read further. Does that mean a blogger can’t start a blog post off on a personal note? Nope. An effective lead can be crafted to make an emotional connection. However, even in a highly personal and emotional connection, the lead would still answer some EEIs (probably a combination or who, what, when, and why).
After you account for the EEIs, here are some additional tips for writing effective leads:
- Be brief. Hook the reader first. You can wax poetic once they have committed to reading the entire article.
- Write in the active voice. Breathless. Direct. You want your reader to be excited to continue!
- Be specific. Part of including the EEIs is that you are telling the reader exactly what to expect.
- Remember, your reader is your customer. Think about what they will get out of your post. Provide great customer service!
I hope you come back next Tuesday when we will discuss why, in writing, it is better to use simple language and easy to understand words.
Until then, have a great week and thanks for reading!