As a content writer, I cringe and writhe in pain when I see some content marketers’ openings — ledes, in journalism parlance — of their blog posts and journal articles. They’re cheap, amateurish, and they say absolutely nothing. They’re terrible ways to start a blog article, and they can wreck what might have been an otherwise good piece.
They’re so overused and hackneyed, I’m just embarrassed for them.
It’s one thing if they tried this lede in college and got a warm, squishy feeling about it, but the problem is no one told them not to do it again, and so they stuck with it.
Wait, wait! What’s a “lede?”
Lede (pronounced “leed”) is the intentional spelling of the word lead. However, you don’t always know how “lead” is pronounced until you know its context.
According to newspaper legend, reporters — whose stories were cast in lead (“led”) type — wanted to avoid confusion with the opening lines to their stories. And so people wouldn’t get confused and say lead instead of lead. Since they wrote a lead that was cast in lead, they needed to signify the difference. So they started using “lede” to mean the opening paragraph (“graf”) and “lead” to mean the soft metal.
But that’s not what you came here for.
The Five Terrible Ways to Start a Blog Article
1. Let’s face it.
I hate this one because it feels forced and we have to reluctantly accept what life has done to us. Like you and I have been going around and around trying to find our way out of a Locked Room game, and we don’t have the first clue to get out.
I’ll almost buy using this phrase near the end of an article, but not at the beginning.
2. Unless you’ve been under a rock.
I overheard someone use this on an anime podcast recently, talking about an anime movie that I had never even heard of. Basically, unless I had been living under a rock, I would know about this whole big kerfuffle surrounding this movie I’d never heard of.
This lede is actually rude because it insinuates your reader is a moron.
“Only a true moron wouldn’t know about this thing I’m about to tell you.”
My response to these is rude and vulgar, so I won’t repeat it.
3. The recipe lede.
“Take three part X, two parts Y, and one part Z, mix them together and you’ve got [insert story theme].” Blurg!
This one is hackneyed and overused. It works in nearly every situation, which means it’s not good for any of them. Gag me with a mixing spoon.
4. The high school research paper.
This is the one that gets directly to the point in the most boring way possible, usually as a way to shoehorn keywords into the opening paragraph.
“Most businesses need an accounting and bookkeeping system. Keeping track of your finances is the most important job for any business, and accounting software will help you do this.”
Sure, it’s factual, it’s to the point, and it’s so dull, it couldn’t cut through water.
A better lede might start with, “Entrepreneurs, do you remember when you started your business and all your invoices were done in Word and you hammered together some kind of balance sheet on Excel?” See the difference?
“There are 7 million blog articles published every day.”
You could lump this one with the high school paper lede. It’s informative, but it’s not exciting. I might appreciate that fact (which is true), but it doesn’t pull me into the story with any emotion. If you want me to care, tell me about one of those bloggers, not all 7 million of them.
Also, clicking that link takes you a real stinker of a lede — it’s written only for SEO purposes, and if I wasn’t promised a raft full of blogging stats, I wouldn’t read a word more of it:
“This article will reveal the most interesting blogging stats, facts, and trends. And answer the most common questions.”
The Five Good Ways to Start a Blog Article
So how should you start a blog article if you want it to be effective and interesting?
1. The Hard News Lede This actually is a boring way to start a story, but it’s soooo much better than any of the ones I mentioned above. Go look at a newspaper’s website and read some of the articles in their News section. They’ll all start with the hard news lede.
In this kind of lede, you answer the 5 W’s and 1 H: Who, what, where, when, why, and how. (Sometimes called the 6 W’s, where the how is replaced with “what significance.”)
Here’s an example:
“John Smith was shot as he tried to stop a hold-up attempt at KFC at 1234 Main Street at 12:38 pm. He was taken to Polk Memorial Hospital and listed in stable condition.”
You’ve got all 5 W’s and the H in that first sentence. (I just threw in the second sentence so you’d know John was OK. He appreciates your well-wishes.)
It’s not exciting, but it’s informative and well-done.
2. The “Features” Lede
The news lede is boring, but the features lede is much more interesting. In fact, features stories tend to be much more interesting than hard news stories.
“All John Smith wanted was a bucket of chicken. What he got was a trip to the hospital and a bullet wound to the thigh.”
They look at the Why of most news stories in general — this is where you find the interesting details about a news story. Investigative reporting happens here. Sports features happen here. Human interest. Historical stories. Social/community stories.
For a look at a great lede in a Pulitzer-winning story, check out the Tampa Bay Tribune’s Insane. Invisible. In Danger. stories, written by Leonora LaPeter Anton, Anthony Cormier, and Michael Braga.
3. Telling a story.
I don’t mean a long, meandering, 4-volume epic about Memaw’s Potato Salad preceding the actual recipe. But a nice 100-word story that builds tension or sets the stage for the information you’re about to impart.
Content marketers like to call themselves “storytellers,” yet they fail to tell a single story in all of their writing. I don’t mean just tell a story like, “That time I got lost in a foreign city with my dad.” You can tell brief stories to set the stage to a bigger idea. Story #3 in the Tampa Bay “Insane. Invisible. In Danger.” series does that in just seven grafs. Surely you can do that!
4. Look, stupid!
Now, let me stress that I do not recommend that you actually start a blog article with this phrase.
Rather, this is a great way to kick off an article when you’re stuck for a starting point. I’ve used this to kick off many how-to and informative articles. I could have started this article with:
“Writing the opening of a blog article isn’t that hard, but that doesn’t mean you can be lazy about it. You need to grab your reader from the very first words, which means you can’t just phone in the lede.”
I write “Look, stupid!” then write the lede, and then go back and delete those first two words. The opening gets me exasperated with the reader and I can adopt an “I-love-you-but-you’re-killing-me-Smalls” tone. The lede is forceful, direct, and gets straight to the point.
5. The mystery.
Build a mystery with your opening and promise to solve it for the reader sometime before the end. Make sure the mystery is enticing — you can help that along by telling a story — and that the payoff is worth it.
“I remember going on a road trip with a friend in college. We drove 1,000 miles west with no real destination in mind and no idea what we would find. We just knew we wanted to leave Indiana for a week. What we found — and who we picked up on the way — changed our lives and sent us careening off the carefully-laid plans our parents had made for us.”
Isn’t that exciting? Don’t you want to know where we went, what we found, and who we picked up? I’ll bet that if I started a blog post that way, you’d gobble up the entire article trying to find out all the answers to the questions.
Unfortunately, it’s here at the end of the piece, and I’ve run out of time, so I guess you’ll never know.
(Just kidding. I made that stuff up.)
There are already 7 million blog articles being published each day, so there’s no point in trying to match the same level of boring mediocrity as everyone else. Stop using those bad ledes to start a blog article, because they’re just making your work sound terrible. A good blog post starts with a good lede and builds from there.
Write great ledes and the rest will follow.
Photo credit: Creative_Tomek (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)