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Jun 16 / King Kaufman

Listen to yourself and get your “but” out of your lede

How do you know when you have a good lede, and how do you know when you have a bad one?

Well, some of it is “I know it when I see it,” but if your lede is specific, gets right to the point of your story, has crucial keywords, draws in the reader, reads well out loud and makes every word count, you’ve probably written a pretty good one.

Bad ones are easier to spot. They don’t do those things, or they just ain’t good in the English.

But if you’re looking for a clue, look for the word “but.” Or at least the concept.

An example: I don’t like to point out pieces I’m criticizing because it looks like a public shaming, so I’ll just say there was a recent piece that presented forward-looking analysis about a player, but the first three paragraphs were a review of some controversies involving that player over the past year.

The end of the third paragraph read, “But this piece is about [Player X's] future.”

As a writer, you have to listen to yourself. This writer was telling himself that the first three paragraphs of his piece were about something other than what the rest of the piece was about. That’s not a recipe for a good lede.

I also saw this at the tail end of a lede recently: “But I digress.”

If you find yourself typing, “But I digress,” go back and take a long look at what you’ve just written. Is that digression really necessary or are you taking your story off track?

If your lede is a digression, start over.

  • Marc Mattaliano

    It’s not a bad idea, however sometimes you need to start an article with something that seems completely unrelated to get your readers saying, “huh? How is this–ohhh, I see where you’re going, okay.”

    I’ve done it before to great success. You start the article with the point made in the title, your article starts sounding like a high school essay.

    If you start it with an example that seems out there, but you bring it back to the point quick enough, you can really hook a reader strong.

    You are right, though, digressing heavily and too far off the beaten track right away can seem way too unrelated, especially if the connection isn’t made quick enough and effectively enough.

  • Schottey


    That isn’t a lede though.

    King’s point is that the lede isn’t the place to digress. The lede is the journalistic equivalent of a thesis statement. If you’re digressing there, you’re sacrificing clarity and in journalism, that’s a number one priority.

    I agree that digressions can be used very successfully, but they can be even more successful after a clear, well-thought-out lede.