Based on time-honored press printing journalism practices, the LEDE editing code is all about getting straight to the point—ensuring your audience instantly knows whether an article is relevant to them.
In the intense competition for online eyeballs, you need to captivate your readers right from the very first sentence. Today, OSPeas Carl, jam, Felicity, Chris, and Christine, explain the LEDE editing code, and how we try to keep your readers hooked from the start.
Building a bridge between writer and reader, a strong lede can simplify the reading process, reducing cognitive load and capturing your readers' attention.
In this conversation, we'll explore how you can craft engaging ledes that hit home right from the start, whether you're writing a sentence, a paragraph, or an entire article. We also reflect on the importance of mindful communication in fostering a positive and human-centered culture in the workplace.
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Hi, i'm Carl from OSP and this is Communicate Connect Grow, the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about not burying the lede in your writing with the editing code LEDE. If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues, that's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes Communicate, connect and Grow. This is a Communicate episode and we're talking about putting your main point up front with our editorial code LEDE. The LEDE editing code falls into the scope and narrative structure phase of the editing process and it's about putting your main point up front in your writing. In our documentation about this code, it says don't bury the lede in the article or even in a sentence.Felicity Brand:
Hi, i'm Felicity Brandt. I work as a communications consultant at OSP. I do a lot of writing and technical editing and I love thinking and talking and writing about writing and words.Chris Fenwick:
Hi, I'm Chris Fenwick. I'm a communications consultant at OSP, which basically means that I handle copywriting and editing. It's my main activities.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
Hi, i'm Jeffrey McGuire. Most people call me Jam. I co-founded OSP and this crazy idea of the editing codes was not really my idea, but it was someone else's idea about how to unpick the crazy tornado going on in my brain when I edit documents.Christine Buehler:
I'm Christine Bueller and I'm a communications consultant at Open Strategy Partners. I work on product communications and strategy for mostly tech companies.Felicity Brand:
So the editing code LEDE is about putting your main point up front. Don't bury your lede. Some people trip up over the spelling of lede. It's an intentional misspelling and I found a great article researching the history of the misspelling of the word lede which we can link to in our show notes. Basically, it's a nod back to old press printing journalism where they traditionally structure their stories like an inverted pyramid. So the main point is at the top. You put that right at the start of what you're writing about and they misspelled the word so that the printing presses would know that to recognise it when it came up. One thing that occurs to me about the way we misspell lede as our editing code is that it is in direct contravention of a couple of our other editing codes, like Clear and Buzz. Check out those other episodes because it's jargon and it's slang and it's really not clear. But just roll with us on this because it has a history and putting your main point up front can seem like a spoiler, but it's not. Whether you're educating or persuading or trying to convert your reader, you need to let them self-select. Is this relevant to me? when they start reading And they need to get that in the first one or two sentences or even in the title. So don't be afraid that you're showing your hand too early because you really want to. If you're going to engage your reader, you need to tell them what they're engaging with right at the start.Chris Fenwick:
As I understand it, it just means that you have to put the most important element first, and this can be in a paragraph or also in a sentence. So if you're writing about a particular company, then ideally their name should be at the beginning of the first paragraph and the first sentence, rather than some sort of other preamble, and then you get around to them. I mean, that might work nicely in narrative literature, but for case studies, blogs, b2b marketing, it's not necessarily about trying to sort of set the scene and then chant the reader like this. It's instead about trying to front load the most important information and make the text as easy to follow as possible.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
One term that I have found myself using a lot this year is self-qualification. By that I mean several things. I think it's kind of a way to respect our audience. If I'm writing something directed at a particular audience who I think is facing a particular challenge in their kind of business, i want to tell them the summary of the next thousand words so that they can decide whether they care enough, whether it's potentially important enough to them to spend the five or ten minutes reading it. And in the digital world this translates to what shows up in search engine results, what shows up in teasers, giving someone else an easy summary to use somewhere else. So front loading all the important information, expressing somehow who the target audience is, what, the challenges that we're addressing, hopefully, the benefits that they can get out of reading or adopting the solution, or whatever all of that should really be in the first three or four sentences. I love how you talked about enchanting introductions and all that, and it's so nice and sweet and beautiful to read three or four paragraphs to get to that crunchy point. But when I was figuring all of this out for myself years ago, when I started writing professionally regularly, i started to understand that for me, it was the fourth or the fifth paragraph that I would write. if I were just writing, naturally, that fourth or fifth paragraph, that's the stuff that actually matters, and I would start to put it right on top.Christine Buehler:
So the editing code LEDE is pretty straightforward. It just means don't bury the lede, which means at the beginning of an article, at the beginning of a paragraph, at the beginning of a sentence. Make sure you're being very clear about what your point is and what you want the reader to take away from your article.Carl Richards:
Let's explore how you use this code as an editor.Felicity Brand:
When I'm editing a piece, this code is about looking at lede placement. So first I need to make sure we have a lede, then I'm seeing where it is. So it doesn't always have to be the very, very first sentence, particularly if you have a great title. Some ledes work quite well as the final sentence to a short opening paragraph, but usually I'm looking at context and the brief and ensuring that we haven't buried anything important. Often in these editing code episodes I talk about or I think about long form content, but the LEDE code applies not just for an entire piece but in a sentence, so you can bury the lede in a sentence. So when I'm editing, that's just about looking at the opportunity to move phrases around, bringing things into the light so that they're not easily missed. In usability studies, when people do eye tracking research, they look at how readers eyes travel on a page. One of the common patterns that emerged is this capital F, so it's called an F-shaped pattern of reading, and what that means is the reader will scan the text on the page in the shape of a little letter F, so they go across and then down. And because English is a left-to-right reading language, if you have your lede buried in a sentence. It will fall on the right-hand side of the page, so if a reader is scanning down the left, you really want your lede to popping out at them at the start of a sentence.Chris Fenwick:
I think there's maybe two ways in which it plays a role. There's kind of the paragraph or piece structure level, and then there's the sentence structure level. In terms of the sentence, if there's too much other information that's getting in the way before you get to the main subject or the main verb of the sentence, then definitely it needs to be applied there and the sentence needs to be rewritten and things have to be moved around, just to make things slightly easier to follow, at least for this kind of writing. And in terms of the structure of the piece, which is maybe where it's more important, you have to be aware of who the audience is, what kind of attention they're going to be paying, what it is that they want to hear about, and then make sure that all the salient points are put up front, often with a kind of advanced organization where the first paragraph will also anticipate the next couple and tell you what it is that the rest of the piece is going to say. And, of course, if that's absent, then that's definitely something that needs to be dealt with when editing.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
When I'm editing something and I am oriented enough to know what needs to happen, i essentially read that and then I look at the rest of the piece and I see if that is a nice roadmap to the rest of it and I find myself It's something, i think, that gets tweaked the most. I think and I'm always grateful for it when somebody helps me clarify that as well It's a tricky little thing to get right. Just want to point out once again this is extremely important for our professional kind of writing and it doesn't necessarily apply when you write a letter to your parents or something as an editor, i always go straight for the beginning of an article when I'm starting to edit.Christine Buehler:
LEDE is a really useful editing code as an editor because it just makes sure that I look at the beginning of every paragraph, at the beginning of every article and just like saying do I understand what is being said here and Is the reader by proxy going to understand as well?Carl Richards:
As a writer. How do you approach this code?Felicity Brand:
Okay, thinking about the LEDE editing code as a writer. So I guess my advice to other writers is don't sweat it at the start. So at OSP we work with a content brief and the content brief outlines the thesis for what we're about to write. So when I'm writing I will just plonk that thesis down as the very first sentence in my piece Which is probably clunky, you know it's. It's often not worded amazingly, but it but it does capture the thesis. So I will plonk that as my first sentence and then I will write the piece and then right at the end I'll come back and finesse the lede to get the phrasing right, to keep it simple and brief. But generally I can't nail that lede right when I sit down to start to write. Sometimes it can feel abrupt to just launch straight in with your lede, but so it can. It can be tempting to start with background and context and really kind of work your way up to something, but readers don't have time for that, so don't keep it a mystery. What's your point, what's your stance, what's your opinion? What is this piece about? We really want to lay it out right at the start. The other thing I just wanted to mention is sometimes for a long-form piece, we might have a title in the form of a question. So if you do ask a question in the title, you should answer it in the subtitle or at least very early on. You don't want to leave it till the summary to answer that question that you've asked, because readers don't have time for that. If your title is a question like Should we move to X product, you should answer that straight away in the subtitle or the intro with We think so, and here are the reasons why, just so that the audience, the reader, is in no doubt about what they're about to embark upon When they're reading again.Chris Fenwick:
I think it's one of these things that you tend to internalize after a while if you're used to kind of writing in a particular style. But definitely it's sometimes a thing where you reorganize what you've written with it in mind, you realize that you've written one paragraph that actually makes sense.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
Going further up, I don't think I've Properly ever internalized this creation of the lede. I Definitely don't get the first paragraph right as the first thing I write. At OSP We use some templates to fill in what we call content briefs so that we have an idea of who, who the audience is, what we're writing about and And so on, so we can have a sort of an editorial checklist, make sure everything's covered and and so on. That can give us a good idea of what the article is about. And in the end I Usually write something. And then I write the whole article and by the time I'm five, six hundred, a thousand words in and I get to the conclusion, like the last Paragraph, where in our style of business writing, we generally so we told you about this and if you want to have this benefit, why don't you try out that and push them towards the call to action? when I get that just about right, i find myself then, you know, quickly comparing the structure of the article to that and Looking at all of it, and then I write the lede that I actually got miss like, because in that moment I've gotten all the way down the path to where the article is composed and structured where I want it and then Then I can sort of put that cherry on top of it as a writer, I really like the LEDE editing code because it's just a constant reminder to be straightforward at that phase of the writing process you don't need to be like fancy or particularly clever, it's really just a Common sense, back to basics Reminder, and I think that's really important when it comes to clear product communications, which is what we're trying to do at Open Strategy Partners.Carl Richards:
For the reader to have a great experience. Here's why this editing code is extremely important.Felicity Brand:
So LEDE is about respecting your audience, their time and attention. So there's so much content out there. We know that, and knowing what you're jumping into makes you feel confident and comfortable. So putting the lede at the front is a kindly act for your reader Because it allows them to skim read. Basically, if you've got a great title, lots of subheadings, nicely chunked blocks of text and all of those sentences have great ledes, the reader can quickly consume your piece. When I'm reading, i'm lazy, i don't don't make me work hard, just just tell me and then, if there's more detail, i will dive into that. That's what LEDE is about for me.Chris Fenwick:
In general it makes the piece easier to read. It lowers the sort of resistance Cognitive load for the the reader that they have to face. So, if they are just sort of, if everything is put it, if the information is presented in a logical order, they have all the context that they need to make sense of everything else that comes after, whereas if you're telling them something and then they don't yet necessarily know what area the company works in, for example, then if you do, if that's necessary to know and it's not being made clear yet, then they'll be confused until they read on a bit further. So again, it's more about Reducing the cognitive load for the reader.Jeffrey A. McGuire:
Oh, that's a terrific point. A lot of functional writing has Ecology behind it and I want to believe that we use those psychological principles polls for good. So in this case, yeah, reducing someone's cognitive load, helping them get to understanding is this right for me? Do I need this? can this help me? I think that's a great reason to do it and on a practical level, as still as the consumer, still as the reader, if the search engine takes the first paragraph as the results description, or it takes the meta description, or Whether it generates its own, which it's starting to do now. If it generates its own, we're kind of out of luck as creators. But otherwise, when we look at our first paragraphs and our metadata as a consumer, then I have this. I have this chance to get a quick picture of where I am and and decide if I need to, if I need to Take my time for this or not.Christine Buehler:
I think that The LEDE editing code is important as a reader, because you know right away if the article is relevant to you or not. Or you should just by reading the very first paragraph. As you keep reading, hopefully because the article is relevant to you, each following paragraph will keep just presenting the lede in a straightforward way, so you always know where you're at and where you're going.Carl Richards:
I hope you, dear listener, caught our lede right at the start and knew exactly what you were in for. Next time you start creating a piece of content, put your main points first and let the rest follow. Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy, or email hello at openstrategypartnerscom. Next time you're writing, be mindful of word choices that contain references to time. Oh, and speaking of time, yesterday I bought six watches. You could say I have a lot of time on my hands. How do you use date in your writing? Share your examples or questioner at open underscore strategy or email. Hello at open strategy partners. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to openstrategypartnerscom, have a look on our writer enablement workshop case study offering or get in touch to talk about your product communication needs. Thanks to who contributed to this podcast all the P's at OSP. To our clients who beliefs shout out. To Patrick Gaumont for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike Snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing About our three themes on the podcast. You'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time. Communicate all things. Communication, or how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes and more. Connect in-depth conversations with interesting, smart people, who they are, what they do and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders. Grow cover approaches to understanding and expressing the value you do, including tools, tests and practices. We also feel strongly about building a mindful, positive, human first culture at work. That's bound to pop up from time to time too. This podcast is us figuring out communication connection and together. Subscribe now on YouTube, apple pod, the podcast channel of your choice. Thank you.