Different types of “W” leads

Excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content 

In a previous post, we looked at the W5 lead.

There are times journalists find multiple W5 elements, or need more than the basic W5 points, before they can write stories. There are times when they do not use all the W5 points they find. Either way, W5 is the place to start. Again, it doesn’t mean you will always use every W element, but know what they are before you write and make using them, or not, a conscious decision.

Let’s look at some other W leads.

Sample W4 News Lead
You don’t always have to use every W in your lead. However, you should be conscious of why you use the ones you use and why you leave out any of them.

Headline: Home prices to tumble in ‘09
Sub-head: Average decline to be nine percent
Lead: House prices are expected to fall eight percent across Canada this year and sales are predicted to slip nearly 17 percent, according to a new report from The Canadian Real Estate Association.

Deconstructing the W4, we see:

Who: Canadian Real Estate Association
What: house prices expected to fall eight percent
Where: across Canada
When: this year
Why: there was no reference to the economic downturn; however, with the spate of articles on the recession, including others on the same page, the why is apparent, so it was left out of the lead.

Summary Lead
Summary leads summarize the most important idea in the story. It is often preferred for breaking-news and issue-oriented stories. Here is a sample summary lead that contains little more than the who and what:

Lead: The University of Oregon must move more women into higher-level faculty jobs or face federal sanctions.

Blind Lead
A blind lead is a summary lead that leaves out potentially confusing detail(s), as in this example:

Lead: The state’s land-use planning agency on Friday chose a former city planner from New York to be its new director.

This lead omits the name of the planning agency (the Department of Land Conservation and Development) and the name of the city planner, who was relatively unknown. A catch-all paragraph (or nut ‘graph—the story in a nutshell) immediately follows a blind lead and would include specific details omitted from the lead.

Wrap Lead
To “wrap” a lead, you combine, refer to or wrap several items in a lead.

Lead: Thursday’s storm caused the deaths of a Hamilton woman who broke her neck in a fall, a Niagara Falls man who had a heart attack while shovelling snow and a Fort Erie teenager struck by a skidding car.

Shirttail Lead
Shirttails include a summary lead focusing on the most newsworthy elements, followed by the remaining items (or shirttails), each with its own lead. Shirttails are often used for meeting stories. The first lead targets the most important item on the agenda; remaining items are introduced with an “in-other-business” transition in the second paragraph.

Lead: A man taking photographs of Portland’s skyline about 2:15 a.m. Sunday was struck by a car and knocked into the Willamette River off the Interstate 5 ramp to Interstate 84. Another accident later that morning, this one involving a hit-and-run driver in Southwest Washington, left a Lynnwood, Wash., man in serious condition.

Complex Shirttail Lead
Similar to the Shirttail lead, the Complex Shirttail lead includes a summary lead focusing on the most newsworthy elements. But that lead is followed by a number of related elements.

Lead: The federal government has provided nearly $400 million for desperately needed affordable housing in Ontario—but the money may not be spent any time soon.
The province has stashed the money in a contingency fund pending the outcome of a fiscal battle with Ottawa.
Now, housing groups are wondering whether the province will ever spend the money on housing.

Notice the multiple who’s and related what’s in the above lead. Each source has equal weight. Each who is given its own paragraph and its own what to make it clear there are three sides to the story; the conflict makes this topic newsworthy.

Deconstructing the who and what from the above lead we find:

Who: federal government
What: provided nearly $400 million for desperately needed affordable housing
Who: The province
What: has stashed the money in a contingency fund
Who: housing groups
What: are wondering whether the province will ever spend the money on housing

You should be able to find the multiple where’s, when’s and why’s in the lead as well.

W5 Lead from Corporate Article
W5 leads are not just used in news articles in newspapers and magazines. The lead (and second paragraph) below was taken from the website of Statistics Canada, a government agency. This article is presented as news as it is reporting on the release of a new statistic.

Article: The top 1% of Canada’s 25.5 million tax filers accounted for 10.6% of the nation’s total income in 2010, down from a peak of 12.1% in 2006.
In the early 1980s, the top 1% of tax filers held 7.0% of the total income reported by all tax filers. This proportion edged up to 8.0% in the early 1990s and reached 11.0% by the early 2000s.

Who: The top 1% of Canada’s 25.5 million tax filers
What: accounted for 10.6% of the nation’s total income; down from a peak of 12.1% in 2006
Where: Canada
When: 2010

Notice that the why is not there; it could be argued that it is not the agency’s responsibility to speculate as to why the change occurred. That is best left up to politicians, commentators and news outlets. But the primary point to pick up on here is that this W style of lead writing is not the exclusive domain of news articles that appear in newspapers and magazines. It is a style that appears in periodical and business writing because it conveys the most pertinent information—the information that readers want. That does not mean you can’t have an article that, in the above instance, focuses on the why or takes an editorial stance. But you, the writer, need to know what you are writing about and the publication you are writing for—the kind of person who will be reading the article and what are they primarily interested in.

[This has been an excerpt from Fundamentals of Writing: How to Write Articles, Media Releases, Case Studies, Blog Posts and Social Media Content ]

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One thought on “Different types of “W” leads

  1. Pingback: Writing W5 News Article Leads | Everything You Wanted to Know about Freelance Writing

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