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Compelling Leads that Grab Readers’ Attention

Updated on October 19, 2015

Every day a myriad of news stories crosses your path, vying for your attention. The stories zip through your daily life delivered to you in newspapers and magazines, on computers and websites, and by an array of digital devices, including smartphones. So, what makes you read one story and pass on another? Most of the time it is an engaging headline and equally engaging lead—often the story’s first paragraph. What do you think are the key elements of a lead that stops you in your busy tracks and compels you to read the story?

One of the biggest factors for me in deciding to read a news story is the type of media; I always only read new stories that are in digital media format. Print media normally means that I would have to buy it in order to read it, while I can read digital media for free anytime. The second factor I consider when deciding if I will read a new story is the subject; I avoid all stories that involve violence, preferring stories on new science and technology. The third factor is the cover image and the lead; often times I am drawn to a story based on an interesting image, an engaging lead, or a thought provoking lead. For instance, I wrote my blog article on liquid water on Mars because when I was looking for current news stories the lead on liquid water possibly leading to life on Mars drew me in. This lead was an example of a basic summary lead (Harrower, 2013, p. 46).

A basic Summary lead combines the five W’s of the news story in one sentence (Harrower, 2013, p. 46). I personally find summary leads are the ones which stop me in my busy tracks and compels me to read the story as they lay out the important part of the whole story in one sentence. A summary lead allows me to quickly determine if I will find the story interesting or not without reading the entire story (Harrower, 2013, p. 46). A close second for engaging leads for me would be the wordplay leads; these leads involve puns, written sound-effects, typography, or witty word play (Harrower, 2013, p. 47). Wordplay leads or headlines are meant to pull the reader in using wit and humor. The Fredrick New-Post used a wordplay headline for an article on a waffles house being closed; the headline was “Waffle House Pancaked” (Apple, 2011).


Apple, C. (2011, January 4). Clever headline wordplay on today’s front pages. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from

Harrower, Tim. Inside Reporting, 3rd Edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2013


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