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How Professional Writers Capture Readers

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS How Professional Writers Grasp Hold of Readers


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The typical reader will give you only 15 SECONDS to capture their attention.


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If you don’t grasp hold of them IMMEDIATELY, they’re gone…


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That’s why professional writers obsess over THE LEDE – the first sentence or paragraph of an article or blog post.


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“ Always grab the reader by the throat in the first paragraph, sink your thumbs into his windpipe in the second, and hold him against the wall until the tag line. ” - Paul O’Neil, former veteran Life magazine writer


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Great ledes get to the point.


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I regret nothing. The end. - Ron Swanson


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The lede is no place to “set the scene.”


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“ Don’t bother with the big wind-up. Don’t feel like you have to justify what you’re going to talk about – ‘XYZ season is fast approaching, folks, so …’ Just start talking about it. If you feel like readers need background information, don’t lead with it. Lead with what’s new, with what your article is about. ” - The Bleacher Report Writers Report


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Entice the reader.


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Think g-string… …not granny panties.


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“ Render the reader helpless to do anything but read on. ” - Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winner


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“When they heard the screams, no one suspected the rooster.” - Kelley Benham French, St. Petersburg Times (2002) "Gary Robinson died hungry.“ - Edna Buchanan, Miami Herald (1985) 4 GREAT LEDES “The Pigeon King delivered his closing statement to the jury dressed in his only suit.” - Jon Mooallem, New York Times Magazine (2015) “The babies showed up on Craigslist at 1:26 p.m., May 6.” - Kristen Hare, St. Louis Beacon (2008)


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The lede is no place to be meek or modest.


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Come out swinging.


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“ The voice should be strong, and it should be compelling. ” - George Pelecanos, bestselling mystery author


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Great ledes build DIRECTLY on the headline. This looks like a good place…


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If a reader clicks on your article or blog post, that’s proof they’re interested in the topic…


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This rock ain’t so heavy after all… Leverage that to your advantage.


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How Pulitzer-Prize winners build on headlines… Headline Pentagon Curbs Use of Psychologists With Guantanamo Detainees Lede The United States military has sharply curtailed the use of psychologists at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in response to strict new professional ethics rules of the American Psychological Association, Pentagon officials said. - James Risen, The New York Times Affirms headline… …then builds


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Make every single word count…


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“ A long lede shows a lack of confidence, like you don’t believe I’ll read the whole story so you have to tell me as much as you can as fast as you can. ” - Steve Buttry, Director of Student Media, LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication


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A good benchmark is 30 words…


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Be specific


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Name names


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“ If we think about the beginning of the book, the opening pages, then I feel it is imperative that the writer get down to business quickly and draw the reader in to such a degree that he or she will not want to stop. ” - Paul Auster, New York Times bestselling author


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Make it easy to read


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To be clear, none of these are hard and fast rules…


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But let me leave you with one thought…


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“ In [writing,] as in life, you can get away with what you can get away with. If you’re good enough, you can get away with murder. If you’re not -- and most of us are not -- you can’t. ” - Claire Messud, New York Times bestselling author


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