The News Manual Chapter 4: Writing the intro in simple steps

HERE we consider the qualities which a good intro should have. We look at how a reporter decides what information to put in the intro, and offer advice on how to make your intro more effective.

The intro is the most important part of any news story. It should be direct, simple, and attention-grabbing. It should contain the most important elements of the story – but not the whole story. The details can be told later.

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It should arouse the interest of the reader or listener, and be short. Normally it should be one sentence of not more than 20 words for print media, and fewer for radio and television.

The perfect intro
• The intro should be based on the most newsworthy aspect of the story.
• The intro should be kept short, uncluttered, and relevant to the main story. It should be simple grammatically.
• The intro should make the reader want to read the rest of the story.
• The intro should be appropriate in style to the story.

Newsworthy
To write an intro, you must first decide what makes the story news. There may be several things that are newsworthy in the story. If so, you have to decide which is the most newsworthy. This will be in the intro.

In this way, your readers or listeners will be provided with the most important information straight away. Even if they stop reading or listening after the first one or two sentences, they will still have an accurate idea of what the story is about.

One simple way to do this is to imagine yourself arriving back at your office and being asked by the chief of staff: “What happened?” Your quick answer to that question, in very few words, should be the basis of your intro.

With some years of experience, you will find that you can recognize the most newsworthy aspect of a story almost without thinking. While you are still learning, though, it is useful to have a step-by-step technique to use. We shall explain this technique in detail later in this chapter.

Short and simple
Your intro should normally be no longer than 20 words. There is no minimum length. An intro of 10 or 12 words can be very effective. Usually, an intro will be one sentence. However, two short sentences are better than one long, crowded, and confused sentence.

The words you use should be short and simple, and the grammar should be clear and simple.

You should not try to give too much detail in the intro. The six main questions which journalists try to answer – Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? – will all need to be answered in your news story, but they should not all be answered in your intro. Try to remember these questions as The Five Ws and H – WWWWW.

For each of those six key questions, you will need to ask whether this detail makes the story news. For example, who was drowned? A woman called Mary. Suppose it had been somebody else – would the story have been stronger, weaker, or the same? Only if this detail makes the story stronger should it be in the intro?

The golden rule for intro-writing is KISS – Keep It Short and Simple (KISS).

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