News writing attempts to answer all the basic questions about any particular event in the first two or three paragraphs: ''Who? What? When? Where? and Why? and occasionally How? (ie. "5 W's"). This form of structure is sometimes called the "inverted pyramid," to refer to decreased importance of information as it progresses.
News stories also contain at least one of the following important characteristics: proximity, prominence, timeliness, human interest, oddity, or consequence.
Among the larger and more respected newspapers, fairness and balance is a major factor for the presentation of information. Commentary is usually confined to a separate section, though each paper may have a different overall slant. Editorial policy dictates the use of adjectives, euphemisms, and idioms. Papers with an international audience for example, usually use a more formal style of writing.
The specific choices made by a news outlet's editor or editorial board are often collected in a style guide or stylebook; common commercial stylebooks are the "AP Style Manual" and the "US News Style Book". The main goals of news writing can be summarized by the ABCs of journalism: accuracy, brevity, and clarity.
Article ledes are sometimes categorized into hard ledes and soft ledes. A hard lede aims to provide a comprehensive thesis which tells the reader what the article will cover. A soft lede introduces the topic in a more creative, attention-seeking fashion, and is usually followed by a nut graf (a brief summary of facts).
Media critics often note that the lede can be the most polarizing subject in the article. Often critics find bias based on an editor's choice in headline and lede.
Example Lede-and-Summary Design
Humans will be going to the moon again. The NASA announcement came as the agency requested ten gazillion dollars of appropriations for the project. ...
Example Soft-Lede Design
NASA is proposing another space project. The agency's budget request, announced today, included a plan to send another person to the moon. This time the agency hopes to establish a long-term facility as a jumping-off point for other space adventures. The budget requests approximately ten gazillion dollars for the project. ...
Two other terms common in editing are hed and dek or deck. Hed is used to denote an article's headline or heading. Dek refers to a quick blurb or article teaser.
This structure enables readers to quit reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to enter a topic to the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details or nuances that they would consider irrelevant.
Newsroom practicalities represent another rationale. The inverted pyramid structure enables sub-editors and other news staff to quickly create space for ads and late-breaking news simply by cutting items ("throw-aways") from the bottom ("cutting", literally, at the papers that still use traditional paste up techniques). The structure frees sub-editors to truncate stories at almost any length that suits their needs for space.
Poor structure typically begins with a faulty lede. Steeped in the raw material of their interviews and research, apprentice news writers often fail to anticipate what readers will find most interesting or to sum up the information quickly. These elements of their story they present only after their lede and in an article's later paragraphs. This is the reason for the popular newsroom admonition: "Don't bury the lede!"
Some writers start their stories with the "1-2-3 lede". This format invariably starts with a 5W opening paragraph (as described above), followed by an indirect quote that serves to support a major element of the first paragraph, and then a direct quote to support the indirect quote.
While straight news stories always stay in third person point of view, it's not uncommon for a feature magazine article to slip into first person. The journalist will often detail his or her interactions with interview subjects, making the piece more personal.
A feature's first paragraphs often relate an intriguing moment or event, as in an "anecdotal lede". From the particulars of a person or episode, its view quickly broadens to generalities about the story's subject.
The section that signals what a feature is about is called the nut graf or billboard. Billboards appear as the third or fourth paragraph from the top, and may be up to two paragraphs long. Unlike a lede, a billboard rarely gives everything away. This reflects the fact that feature writers aim to hold their readers' attention to the end, which requires engendering curiosity and offering a "payoff." Feature paragraphs tend to be longer than those of news stories, with smoother transitions between them. Feature writers use the active-verb construction and concrete explanations of straight news, but often put more personality in their prose.
Feature stories often close with a "kicker" rather than simply petering out.