How to write an anecdotal lead

Use real-life stories to attract—and keep—readers.

Everyone loves the opening “once upon a time.” People love stories—tales about real people doing real things. We can’t resist them.

But the reverse is also true. Employees hate—and will not read—lengthy pieces about the company’s new processes. How many times have you curled up on a Sunday afternoon with the latest article on Six Sigma or Continuous Quality Improvement? And yet, those stories are important to your organization’s need to convey business strategies.

How do we resolve this dilemma?

In our writing seminars, we urge editors to consider the anecdotal approach to news writing—an approach made famous by Wall Street Journal. This approach, if done correctly, can turn the most complex piece into a fast and more interesting read. So, how do you construct an anecdotal lead?

Consider this WSJ lead:

Last year, director Steven Soderbergh took home an Academy Award for his unblinking portrayal of drug use in his movie “Traffic.” But viewers of a version of “Traffic” from software company ClearPlay Inc. didn’t see all of it. Gone are scenes of the teenage heroine prostituting herself and learning how to freebase cocaine with her prep-school boyfriend.

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