Writing ledes, writing for feeds…

Too many ledes in tech publications and blogs suck. I’ve been doing more editing and more content curation lately. The upshot of that is noticing a lot of really boring, fluffy, slow-to-the-point ledes that utterly fail at drawing the reader in. It’s not hard to do a decent lede as long as you remember a few guidelines and take the time to revise.

  • Assume you have less than 150 words to make your case. Many sites that aggregate content from RSS like to pick a short excerpt from the beginning of the article. Make the first 150 count.
  • Your lede should give the reader some idea what the topic of the piece is. By name. Don’t stammer about for 200 words without getting the topic of the piece into the lede. If you’re going to write about Eclipse, the lede shouldn’t be 300 words on the history of Java IDEs without using the word “Eclipse” even once.
  • Don’t assume the reader is checking out the lede on the site it lives on, or that the reader is a follower of your blog/column/whatever. Always assume that the reader is completely new to your publication and byline. They don’t care what you wrote yesterday, so an introduction like “following my article yesterday,” is pure fail.
  • It’s great to tell the reader what to expect from a piece, without actually using the words “this article will.” Boring. Tell the reader how a tutorial will benefit them, don’t say “this article will tell you…” — you might as well sing them a lullaby instead.
  • It’s OK not to disclose the outcome of a story from the lede, but you should at least identify the players and give a general clue as to what the story is about.
  • There’s an age-old rule in newsrooms (the Kann Rule) that you shouldn’t start a lede with “I” — this is mainly in reference to journalism where reporters are discouraged from putting themselves in the story. It’s still a good rule, and you should think hard about whether a reader cares deeply about your experience.

I could go on, and on… again, not saying that my ledes are the best in the world, but there’s great, good, passable, and horrible. I’ve been seeing a lot more “horrible” lately. At some point I might put up some examples when I can take the time to look for examples outside the immediate range of publications I read where it’s likely to offend the writer who crafted the sucky lede. Just to mollify anyone reading this post — you may think this post is about your writing, it’s not. Well, not any one person, anyway. This is something that’s been building for a few weeks.

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