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.

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