I’ve had enough. I just read another company blog posting that violated a very common rule among journalism professionals. It inspired me to share these 3 tips for writing a lead sentence. Hopefully these will help you:
1. Never begin an article with a yes or no question – preferably, never begin with a question at all. Professors of journalism stand in front of classrooms across America and espouse this to their students. One day, Dr. Dean Nelson casually strolled into our classroom at Point Loma, picked up a newspaper that was lying on a desk and proceeded to read the first sentence out loud: “Would you like to know what’s causing your tax rates to go up?”
He looked at us and replied flippantly: “Um, no.” And tossed the paper into the wastebasket.
I’ve read several company blog articles recently (which I will refrain from naming) that violated this rule. Each time you start writing an article this way, you risk losing your reader. It’s such a universal rule that I emailed my co-worker who used to write for the Washington Post.
My subject line was “what’s the first rule of lead sentence writing in journalism?”
His reply: “Don’t start story with a question or a quote unless the quote is this: “I’m back,” Jesus said yesterday in Jerusalem.”
2. If your mother says she loves you, check it out (with at least two sources)
First coined at the City News Bureau of Chicago, this phrase became associated with a story that one cub reporter called into the wire service about the slaying of a infant. Doubting that the story was true, the seasoned editor replied back before running the story asking, “what color were the dead baby’s eyes?” (Sorry for the gruesome illustration, but such is the stuff of legacy news print.) He couldn’t answer the question because the story had been made up.
If you’re asked to write a story for a company blog, please make sure what you’re writing actually happened. After all, it’s your byline attached to that link. This is also a good rule when accusing clients and co-workers of failing to fact check. Are you sure what they wrote is false? Might want to check it out before you send an email to them about it.
3. Nobody cares what happened to you (unless you’re the President or Justin Bieber). What does it mean?
If I had a penny for every company blog post that started out “Today at our company, this thing happened.” I promise you, unless the President or Jesus showed up, we don’t care. Paper into wastebasket. Project the event that happened onto your readership. Rephrase it so that the first sentence explains why it’s important to them that “this thing at your company happened today.” If you don’t, it’s just going to read like a press release…and who reads those?