How to Write a Summation Lead

Police detectives and journalists sometimes use the same lingo when it comes to sticking to the facts.
... moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images

If your teacher has instructed you to write a summation lead for a journalism class, you must write one that lives up to its name: It should provide a summary, or a complete overview, of a news event. Stick with the primary facts, and your opening paragraph will be a compelling one.

1 More than Vegetable Soup

Build your lead around the credo of professional journalists: the five w's and one h, shorthand for who, what, where, when, why and how. You don't necessarily have to flesh out the information in this particular order; some elements might be better off addressed later in the article or, if they're truly insignificant, not at all. Let the facts be your guide, knowing that a solid summation lead should give readers a full synopsis of a news event in a concise manner. After the lead, prioritize the information and expound on the most important points first. Journalists refer to this as inverted-pyramid style, because just as an upside-down pyramid, a news article goes from being wide and expansive in scope to gradually more narrow.

2 A Summation Example

Practice writing summation leads, and soon you will be writing the first draft in your head even as a news event is unfolding. For example, suppose you are covering a school board meeting for your school newspaper. A summation lead might read as follows: “Kennedy High School board members voted 4-3 Tuesday night to allow students to use their cell phones during lunch periods in response to a student petition drive that urged the lifting of a comprehensive ban on phone usage during school hours.” This lead addresses the who, what, when and why; the how and where are probably insignificant, and subsequent paragraphs might expound on the why.

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.