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When I’m asked to edit something longer than a few paragraphs from someone who doesn’t write for a living, I can almost guarantee that the concluding sentence should be the lead.

The lead is the intro to a piece of journalistic writing. It’s sometimes spelled ‘lede’ (but that seems to be from an era when reporters wore press passes in their fedoras).

For news editors, the lead is the opener and it should have the most essential or most interesting part of the story. The idea is that if people stop reading after the first paragraph, they’ll still take in the basics.

But most of us aren’t writing about a city council vote on a budget or a bank robbery.

We mostly write about abstract concepts
and try to persuade people to take action.
So what our lead needs to be isn’t always obvious at first.

Even outside of journalism, editors often see content with a “buried lead.” That means the best part is too far into the piece and won’t be seen by most readers.

Did you bury the lead?

When we were in school, we were taught to write the introduction to our papers last. It turns out, teacher was right. First drafts that start with the perfect intro are rare. What’s more typical is an opener with an overly long set up. So whatever your first intro is, don’t fall in love with it.

Drafting is uncharted territory

When you started, you weren’t entirely sure what you were going to say. From the perspective of your readers, your first conclusion may be the most interesting thing you’ve written so far.More often than not, the ending is your starting point.

When you’re drafting, everything leading up to your finish is brainstorming, figuring something out. It was a useful exercise, but most people don’t have the time to follow every step of your journey. They want you to get to the point.

If we use our first draft, we’re assuming that our audience is hanging on our every word, and that’s our ego talking.

Readers don’t follow us that closely. Instead of dropping the mic and moving on, try another draft. This time, start with your conclusion, then explain the reasoning that supports it (as briefly as possible). Your second draft will be shorter, livelier, and more focused on your audience.

It’s perfectly normal to know what you need to say only after you’ve said it. So don’t let drafting the intro slow you down. Just start getting your ideas down in any order. The intro will come to you later.

Everyone’s first drafts meander (“Here’s something I thought of. And here’s another thing. And that reminds me of this other thing too.”). That meandering doesn’t make you a bad writer – unless you actually post, send or publish it. Then you’re a bad writer.

So take notice of that moment when you think you’ve come up with a good ending. It may just be the place to start.