Tips for Writing Effective Leads

February 2023
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As a writer, at the outset of creating any article, post or prose, you’ve got just three seconds to hook them or lose them. Think of it as your “never get a second chance to make a first impression” moment. 

And the success of your content all rides on the critical first step — creating an effective, engaging and meaningful lead that not only draws your reader in, but also leaves them wanting to know just a bit more to continue on to the rest of the story via a throughput to sentence number two. 

Miss this shot, and your article, story or post is doomed. While it sounds easy, time and time again, so many articles have met their early demise in the dustbin of reader engagement due to the lack of this key fundamental element — an effective lead.

Before putting the figurative pen to paper, consider the following top tips to ensure your readers continue onward, as well as garner more eyes on the prize — enhanced readership through leads that sizzle vs. fizzle.  

1. Create anecdotes and analogies.

Including memorable anecdotes is more than just comparison writing, it’s about creating a visual picture that illustrates the key points with symbolic messaging, much like an artist’s painting provides color and clarity with each brushstroke.

Lackluster example: “The new office building at headquarters is 21 stories tall.” Snoozer!

Strategic approach: “Reaching the same height as the Statue of Liberty, the new office building at headquarters stands with open arms as well for all job seekers entering the XYZ  market.” The symbolic reference to new beginnings, inclusion and equity are key points that invite the reader in to learn more and provide a thematic reference point to build upon within the story’s narrative.

2. Pose a thought-provoking question.

The key to asking a question as a lead is to avoid framing the question with a “yes” or “no” response, which will instantly limit the likelihood your readers will continue reading onward, especially if the query is not relatable to them.  

Lackluster example: “Is continuous improvement helpful at ABC Corporation?” If the answer is no, then enough said. If “not sure,” then a 50% likelihood of continuing, and if “yes,” it’s still not offering attention-grabbing content. 

Strategic approach: “How have the elements of skydiving improved work productivity at ABC corporation?” Adding in a dash of intrigue helps build a sense of mystery and interest to find out more. 

3. Feature an effective quote from within the story.

Powerful quotes bring a humanizing element as a lead as well as being testimonials of personal experience within the narrative of your article. Pull out a quote from the body of your article and use it as the lead instead.

Strategic approach: “When I climbed up Mt. Everest, what I conquered was much greater than the journey itself,” said Stewart Simms, an XXZ sales rep who is legally blind.  

“I had no idea the president of the company even knew who I was,” said XXY Corp new hire Jim Smith, in Receiving, “then when he welcomed me by my first name at the orientation session, I saw firsthand how much a personal approach to customer service really meant.”  

4. Highlight meaningful data.

While words matter, numbers speak volumes if used judiciously. 

Lackluster example: “One hundred people attended the conference.” Crickets. 

Strategic approach: “With a nonstop convoy of U-Hauls traversing into the Lone Star State, more than 300,000 people have moved from California to Texas in 2020, yielding an increase in population equal to the size of Rhode Island on any given day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.”

5. Provide detailed descriptions.

Bringing the reader into the scene within the lead helps to impart emotion and feeling through the use of descriptive detail, along with a third-person account that is both relatable and believable. 

Lackluster example: “The woman picked up a flyer about her recent diagnosis.” Yawn.

Strategic approach: “The pink pamphlet clutched between her trembling fingers provided a beacon of hope amid the deluge of decisions as she sought a path of recovery following her recent diagnosis.”    

6. Don’t bury the lead.

Effective leads follow a “first things first” approach. Putting your gold nugget at the end of the article will offer little certainty that your readers will even take the time to search through the story like being on an Easter egg hunt for the pertinent information. 

7. Practice your technique.

The best way to improve your lead-writing skill is through practice — and more practice. 

Now is the opportunity for you to put pen to paper and hone your ability to generate multiple strategic leads for a single story:

  • Step 1: Select any recent article as your practice example. The length and subject are irrelevant. Choose anything you like, from sports to music, arts, cooking or a personal hobby, among others.
  • Step 2: Next, rerewrite the lead for the article using each of the lead strategies outlined here in this article. 
  • Step 3: When finished, compare each of the approaches and reread the different strategic leads — reviewing how each strategy affects not only the initial hook, but also the segue to the second sentence, as well as the subsequent paragraphs. 
  • Step 4: Knowing that different articles are more strategically fitted to various lead types, ask a colleague for feedback about which strategic lead resonates most for them for your practice example. Would they continue reading on? Why or why not? 

Most of all, use these top tips as tools within your writing toolbox, recognizing that crafting effective leads is all about engagement — by enticing readers to continue reading onward in a meaningful and memorable way by utilizing a strategic lead approach. 

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