News Appendix 5: Requirements of the straight news lead

Appendix description or content:

There are many different ways to write a lead (the first sentence) of a news story.  But the most basic, the most direct, is the straight news lead – and it always conforms the same requirements. As many young writers begin their writing training with the five-paragraph essay, the young reporter begins his/her training with the straight news lead. The straight news lead should be:



1.  short.

No more than 30 words long, please.

2.  arranged from the most important facts to the least important facts.

·      The most common ordering of those facts is: (1) Who (2) What (3) Where (4) When.

·      All four of those facts are required; your lead will be even better if you can squeeze in How? or Why?  

·      Note:  Where and When are almost never the most significant, so they almost never go first.


3.  opinion-free.

As with the rest of the news story, remove unattributed biases from your newswriting.


4.  in active voice.

Passive voice is longer and less direct.

5.  free of proper nouns

… unless those proper nouns are famous.  For example, Nancy Smith is not famous, but Pop superstar Lady Gaga is; thus, Lady G could find herself in a lead, but Nancy Smith would merely be referred to as a “local woman” until she was identified later in the story.)


6.  single sentence

Almost all leads are composed of single sentences.  No semi-colons to other methods of joining independent clauses.  Just keep it simple.

Another consideration: It’s better to focus your leads on what is happening, or what will happen, rather than what happened.  That’s just part of giving people news that they can use.