Six rules for writing straight news leads
By Ken Blake, Ph.D.
Middle Tennessee State University

Every news story begins with a lead (pronounced LEED), so learning to write a good lead is the first step in learning to write a good story. Journalists use many different styles of leads, depending on the situation. But most media writing students begin by learning the simplest and most common style: the straight news lead. Below are six rules for writing good straight news leads. Note: You are free to use and distribute these rules as you like. As their author, all I ask is that you send me an e-mail at kblake@mtmail.mtsu.edu letting me know who you are and how you plan to use them. You might also check out some of the other free materials for journalists and journalism educators available on my website, http://mtweb.mtsu.edu/kblake.

Rule #1: A straight news lead should be a single paragraph consisting of a single sentence, should contain no more than 30 words, and should summarize, at minimum, the most newsworthy "what," "where" and "when" of the story.

Rule #2: The lead's first verb should express the main "what" of the story and should be placed among the lead's first seven words. Rule #3: The lead's first verb -- the same one that expresses the main "what" of the story -- should be active voice, not passive voice. Rule #4: If there's a "who" involved in the story, the lead should give some indication of who the "who" is. Rule #5: The lead should summarize the "why" and "how" of the story, but only if there's room. Rule #6: If what's in the lead needs to be attributed, place the attribution at the end of the lead