Don’t bury the lede – lessons from the cemetery

You may not know how to spell it, but you’ve all heard the word lede. As in

“Don’t bury the lede.”

The lede (not “lead”) is the most important piece of information in a piece of journalism. Wiktionary adds an important piece of information about the spelling—intended to avoid confusion with the lead (metal) used in setting newspaper type.

Everyone cites Nora Ephron’s example—from her high school journalism teacher—who spun out a long story about the teachers taking a day off the following Thursday to go to some state-wide conference with the Governor (or something). He asked the students to imagine they were writing that story for the school newspaper: what’s the lede?

Surely the “most important” information in that story is that their teachers would be meeting with the Governor, no?

Not for a student audience: the most important detail is “No school on Thursday.” If that’s not the first sentence of the school newspaper’s story, the writer has buried the lede.

gravestones. hopefully no buried ledesBut on my stroll through the cemetery yesterday, I came across a literal case of burying the lede.

There’s a gravestone for a woman named Anne. I’ll call her Anne Surname #1.

What does the stone tell us about Anne?

She’s identified as wife of Peter Surname #1, who died in the 1930s and of Samuel Surname #2, who died in the 1950s.

When did Anne die?

That’s an excellent question—in fact, it’s not a stretch to call it the lede in the story the gravestone tells. But apparently no one thought to answer it.

Yep, the only info we have on Anne is her name—no, not even that—her first married name and her two husbands’ names.

Everybody knows the lede?

Do you find it hard to believe that no one—not the family, not the gravestone-carver—noticed the missing information? I don’t.

How many emails have you received inviting you to events or webinars…but neglecting to tell you when those events might be happening?

When you’re writing for an internal audience at your company, it’s easy to forget details. Maybe not the lede—hopefully not the lede—but many times internal communications tell you what a new program is, but not why it matters to the reader.

Don’t assume that everyone knows. Within your team, maybe. But if you’re trying to reach a wider audience, make sure to get an extra set of eyes on your draft. Have someone who’s not involved in the program give it the once-over. And then answer any questions they have.

I only wish we could do that for Anne.


Unbury your ledes and discover the keys to writing great business writing. No, that’s not an oxymoron. Register for my Writing Unbound program; next class begins in Fall 2018.