The Lead and Inverted Pyramid in Journalistic Writing


What comes to mind when you hear the word lead? In our everyday activities at workplaces or in group studies, there is always someone who is a leader or the lead. When someone leads you, the person shows you where to go and becomes your leader. Let’s bring this idea to our journalistic context. The lead and inverted pyramid in journalistic writing is the subject matter at this point. Lead is an opening paragraph in a write-up. It is the most important part of a news story. Mymediajourney is here to educate you on all of this.

The Lead and Inverted Pyramid in Journalistic Writing
The Lead and Inverted Pyramid in Journalistic Writing by

The lead gives the reader an idea of the story to follow. There are so many sources of information such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and the internet. Audiences simply are not willing to read beyond the first paragraph of a story unless it grabs their interest. A good lead grabs the attention of the audience to read the news story. It gives the reader the most important information in a clear, concise, and interesting manner. Talking about the lead here is much associated with the print media hence the need to know about the requirements of a good print news story.

Components of a good print news story

The Lead and Inverted Pyramid in Journalistic Writing
The Lead and Inverted Pyramid in Journalistic Writing by
  •  It should have an inverted pyramid structure. Thus the most important story is at the top and the least at the bottom.
  • A good lead should answer questions on the five W’s and Hs. The five W’s are the Who, Where, When, Why, and When with the H as the How.
  •  It should contain quotations and attribution. (This will be tackled fully in our next subsequent topic).
  •  It should follow the AP Style and possess proper grammar and punctuation
  •  The reporter must know what to put in a lead based on newsworthiness.
  • A good lead should contain at least three of the five W’s and Hs. However, one mistake most writers do is trying to put all the Five W’s and H in a lead. The lead should be brief and simple. It should contain at least 20 words.

The Five W’s and H

The five W’s and H are one of the key components of any news story. They stand for Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.
The five W’s and H should be the questions that every news story must answer such as:

  • Who did what, who said what? or who was involved?
  •  What happened? or What was unique?
  •  Where did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen or How does it affect us?
  • To gain your readers’ attention, your story should be written in a way that your reader would sit back and follow the rest of the story.

Successful Leads

It must contain the most newsworthy information or facts. It should be accurate and objective.
It should be short and simple at least 20 words. It should not be lengthy or else your readers would not be interested to read.
It should be written in an active voice.
It should follow the grammatical rules and correct tenses.
It should not contain quotations.
It should be attention-grabbing.

Types of Lead

Single incidence lead

The single incidence lead addresses one key issue as the name implies. The journalist develops the story out of a particular issue. For instance: The vice Chancellor of the University of Philadelphia suspended three students. This is only talking about one issue. The main issue is that The VC has suspended three students.

Multiple incidences lead

In multiple leads as the name implies, more than one key point is emphasized in this type of lead. This lead addresses more than one issue. For instance: Two people died at the New York junction when the accident occurred and this has made the government fix security cameras to arrest those who do not obey the traffic. There is a summarization of multiple incidences relating to how two people died at the New York junction and as a result, the deployment of measures by the government to arrest whoever goes contrary to the rules of the traffic lights.

Summary lead

Summary means to reduce information to a suitable length. A simple sentence to answer the five W’s question. It is not a must that the lead should contain all five W’s. In the summary lead, it contains more of the five W’s, sometimes it tries to answer all. For example, A motorcycle hit a student crossing the road in Atlanta in the evening. In this example, you get to know that the story answers four of the W’s only instead of the five W’s and H.

Hanging lead

This is a lead whose follow-up is different from what the lead is about. It sometimes confuses readers therefore journalists are advised not to write this type of lead. It makes readers not interested in your story anymore because you try to deceive them as a sort. Example: Three of the students have been disqualified from the vetting. The people of Washington D.C are celebrating their festival and more students are involved in the celebration. In this lead, one can notice that the follow-up is different from the lead.

Updated lead

This type of lead often updates news stories by adding more information to the previous ones. Think of your class prefect, telling you about the end-of-semester exams and later updating you about the rules governing it.

Impact lead

This type of lead addresses the outcome of an issue. It usually answers the question so what? What influence does the news have on the reader?


When something is inverted, it means it is upside down. An inverted pyramid is mostly used by journalists for their news stories. It is the most commonly used structure for news stories. It presents the most important information in news stories first followed in descending order by less important information. The introduction is the most important information, the body provides the supporting details, and the context in the form of direct and indirect quotes and background information, and the conclusion becomes the least important information.

The structure works well for two reasons

Firstly, the most important information which is presented at the beginning helps to grab the reader’s attention and interest so the reader is more likely to read the entire story.
Secondly, a story written in an inverted pyramid structure means the least important information is at the very end of the structure. Therefore if the story needs to be cut, it will be cut from the bottom without any loss of important information.
Moreover, with most consumers reading their news online, this helps ensure that they see your most important information even if they do not click through to read the full article. The inverted pyramid structure is based on the five W’s and Hs thus the lead.

Thank you for reading this article and we wish to educate you more in Journalistic Writing.

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