When it comes to writing a good blog post or article It seems like all the emphasis these days is on creating a snappy headline that will pull a reader into an article. While an effective headline is important to grab a reader’s attention, a great headline without an equally great lead is like putting whip cream topping over a stale apple pie.
The lead of a story has to pack enough of a punch to entice busy people to keep reading. This applies to any type of article–from one explaining the virtues of a particular potting soil, to one reporting on a breaking news story that will make national headlines..
So where do you find the lead? You should be able to find it in your research, the notes you’ve taken during an interview, or an event you’ve attended. If you don’t find it in your research and/or notes, go ahead and write the article first and then read through it. What you’re looking for is information that will answer the proverbial question, “what’s in this for me?”
In many instances you will need to use your imagination a little to spice up the lead to what might not be a particularly exciting topic. Consider this lead I did for an article for a horticulture trade magazine on utility vehicles, the ones used by lawn care and landscaping professionals:
“With more uses than a Swiss army knife and the versatility of a moon rover, utility vehicles (UTVs) are gaining popularity with landscape contractors wishing to improve efficiency, reduce labor, and make things safer for their employees. If you’re hesitant about making the 10K investment in a rugged UTV you may wish to hear what two landscapers have to say about their coveted UTVs.”
In one paragraph I was able to say that UTV’s are versatile and popular with landscapers because they save money and make the workplace safer, two hot button issues with the readers of this trade magazine I also addressed what could be hesitation on the part of the reader to make the investment and tried to entice them to read on to hear what two landscapers had to say about their UTV investment.
Another example would be attending an event. People in the green industry are always attending trade shows. If you’re writing about a trade show you attended, even in a short blog post, try to highlight the most important and useful news and information that came out of the event. Sure, it might have been a whiz bang event where you got to network with a lot of different people and perhaps even had a great dinner, but what will your readers want to know about the event? Try to find that golden nugget from the event; for example a new breed of plant that’s about to take the industry by storm.
Not all leads are alike, though. A lot will depend on the type of article you’re writing. Here are three types of leads, that if done right, will draw a reader into your article.
- Declare what the article is going to be about while summarizing the most important points. This is a typical lead used in journalism and should read like this:
“Profits are up in the landscaping business for the first time since 2008, spurred on by marketing efforts directed at younger shoppers and an overall improvement in the housing market.”
Notice how much information is given in a short paragraph. This type of lead should draw readers in who want to find out the facts and figures that support such a statement.
- Describe a setting that will gently draw readers in while introducing the topic or making a point. For instance, in another article I used the lead to tell a brief story that served to introduce the article and make a point about succession planting:
“When the farmer’s market comes to a close on Saturday in Saratoga Springs, Sandy and Paul Arnold of Pleasant Valley Farm, give a call to a local restaurant to see if the chef wants to buy what they have left over. They supply the farmer’s market and local restaurants for at least 10 months out of the year, thanks to the succession planting they’ve been practicing the last 28 years on their farm in Argyle, New York.”
- Provide enough information to entice readers to read on by gleaming the most interesting elements of an event, such as a trade show. This type of lead is different from the ones above because you have to dig a little deeper to find interesting and useful information. It’s one that can be used with B2B type articles, like in trade journals. So you could say something like:
“The 4th annual AG Today conference featured plants that talk back, a driverless tractor, and new varieties of vegetables that don’t need watering.”
This type of lead demands an explanation, which people will look for in the coming paragraphs.
While headlines are important, you don’t want to drop the ball by offering a lukewarm lead. Experiment until you find the lead that’s right, then hit them with the one-two punch.