How can you recognize a good lead?

By · Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Anyone who publishes stories, whether a brief or a long-form piece, must develop an instinct for what makes a good lead. In places where editors do the publishing, they are ultimately responsible. Sometimes this means coaching writers to improve their leads. Other times it means staying out of the way of writers who already possess the pure instinct of what makes a good lead.

How can you develop this trait? Here are some suggested practices, and they work particularly well with anyone who supervises interns. If you’re the intern, these tips might be helpful for you, too.

  1. Read a lot. Pay attention to leads in a variety of publications. Critique them as you read them. Ask yourself why a lead works for you and why not. Be aware of which types of leads are overused and which are wisely used.
  2. Share examples. Pass along to writers any well-written or poorly written leads you come across. Find ways to do this in a timely fashion while the news is fresh. Ask writers for examples that attract their attention.
  3. Follow up. When writers submit examples of leads to you, follow up with them. Let them know your reaction — whether you agree or disagree with their assessments. Doing so keeps the story talk going.

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