The first words of any story are critical. With that precious beginning, you offer your audience a promise that your story is worth their time. That’s the heavy-duty job of your lead.

Occasionally leads will seem to magically fly onto the computer screen. But, more often, they are the product of hard work of writing and revising. Use the “breath test” to diagnose whether your efforts will pay off with clear, engaging copy.

Read your lead aloud and ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you say it in a single breath?
  • Do you stumble over words?
  • Does it sound like something you’d tell a friend over the phone?
  • Does it put you to sleep or confuse you?

Your answers will show you any trouble spots that need a little more work.

Taken from The Lead Lab, a self-directed course by Chip Scanlan at Poynter NewsU.

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