In the world of journalism — where I started my writing career as a student — a lede is supposed to tell you the story. In the inverted pyramid style that they used to teach us in college, you give the critical information upfront and then write the rest of the article in the inverse order of their importance. This way, if there isn’t space, the editors can chop off the last paragraphs and lose little.
In the magazine writing and by extension, the content writing world, this isn’t necessary (thank god!). You can lead with just about anything and slowly build up to the point you’re making. BUT, in the process, you must keep the reader interested.
For that, you need an attractive lede.
When you begin your content, blog, case study, whitepaper, whatever it is, with something that is obvious, you’ll lose the reader. They’ll quickly jump past the first few paragraphs and start skimming for the information they need. This is especially true of things like listicles, for instance. You’ve promised the reader ‘X things to do Y’. So, get to it.
Here’s what I keep in mind when I write the lede.
Maybe not all at the same time, but these questions help me arrive at the right lede.
What’s the reader’s current problem? When you take this approach, make sure it’s not obvious. “In the lockdown, everyone is gaining weight” is generic and unfounded. “‘I’ve gained 5 kilos since lockdown because my gym has been shut,’ said A” is a bit more relatable.
What will the customer get when they read the article? By leading with the end-result, you can engage the reader in how their life will change. When they start imagining the future, they might be more willing to walk the path.
Why is mine the best solution for their problem? For every problem, there are plenty of solutions. By assuming yours is the only one, you might sound disingenuous. By exploring why you’re the best one, you sound more confident of your place and offering.
How much context is necessary? Not everything requires you to go all the way back to the big bang. Given your reader persona, you can cut to the chase. And it helps if you can avoid defining things like you’re writing a college essay.
Things that are useful in a lede.
Statistics. It gives a sense of proportion. Be careful about using legitimate ones from respectable sources.
Anecdotes. Don’t ramble on for too long.
Questions. Make sure they’re relatable to the reader. If you write for 2-3 different kinds of people, it might alienate some of them.
Quotes. If it’s from a popular person or if it’s controversial, even better.
The book Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Journalism has a helpful chapter on writing ledes. In essence, make it the opposite of generic.