ⓘ Lead paragraph


ⓘ Lead paragraph

A lead paragraph is the opening paragraph of an article, essay, book chapter, or other written work that summarizes its main ideas. Styles vary widely among the different types and genres of publications, from journalistic news-style leads to a more encyclopaedic variety.


1. Types of leads

  • Journalistic leads emphasize grabbing the attention of the reader. In journalism, the failure to mention the most important, interesting or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph is sometimes called "burying the lead". Most standard news leads include brief answers to the questions of who, what, why, when, where, and how the key event in the story took place. In newspaper writing, the first paragraph that summarizes or introduces the story is also called the "blurb paragraph", "teaser text" or, in the United Kingdom, the "standfirst".
  • Leads in essays summarize the outline of the argument and conclusion that follows in the main body of the essay.
  • Encyclopedia leads tend to define the subject matter as well as emphasize the interesting points of the article.
  • Features and general articles in magazines tend to be somewhere between journalistic and encyclopedian in style and often lack a distinct lead paragraph entirely.

Leads vary enormously in length, intent and content.


2. Other introductions

In journalism, there is the concept of an introductory or summary line or brief paragraph, located immediately above or below the headline, and typographically distinct from the body of the article. This can be referred with a variety of terms, including: the standfirst UK, rider, kicker US, bank headline, deck, dek, or subhead US.

A foreword is a piece of writing sometimes placed at the beginning of a book or other piece of literature, written by someone other than the author to honour or bring credibility to the work, unlike the preface, written by the author, which includes the purpose and scope of the work.


3. Spelling

The term is sometimes spelled "lede". The Oxford English Dictionary suggests this arose as an intentional misspelling of "lead", "in order to distinguish the words use in instructions to printers from printable text," similarly to "hed" for "headline" and "dek" for "deck". Some sources suggest the altered spelling was intended to distinguish from the use in typesetting of "lead" for the metal strips of various thickness used to separate lines of type used in typesetting in the early 20th century. However, the spelling "lede" first appears in journalism manuals in the 1980s, well after lead typesettings heyday. The earliest appearance of "lede" cited by the OED is 1951.

According to Grammarist.com, the "lede" is ".mainly journalism jargon for the introductory portion of a news story. Strictly speaking, is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know".

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