AC BLOG: The First Rule of Professional Writing: Don’t Bury the Lede

Apr 3, 2024

If you’re a content creator, it’s essential to also be a heavy consumer of content.

To write authoritatively and informatively, you need to stay current with what thought leaders, influencers, and industry experts are talking about, and that means consuming content – whether in the form of news articles, industry journals, social media, videos, or whatever channel you prefer.

As an avid content consumer, one of the most common, easily correctable mistakes I see is known as “burying the lede.” (The term began being spelled as “lede” at mid-20th century newspapers to avoid confusion with references to the printing press, which was made of “lead” metal. It doesn’t seem all that complicated to me, and it makes you wonder how often the two terms were used interchangeably that it really became that much of a problem, but we’ll move on.)

Stated succinctly, the “lede” is the most important, newsworthy part of the story. It answers two critical questions that every reader asks themselves, whether consciously or subconsciously, when beginning to engage with any piece of content: What is this about, and why should I care?

When writers bury the lede, they test their readers’ patience and increase the likelihood that readers will bail out before reaching the end.

The MLA Style Center offers this example of a buried lede: Say that two people died in a house fire, but the article mentions the location, time, or cause of the fire prior to the occurrence of the deaths.

The lesson is just as applicable to health IT thought leadership as it is to basic journalism. Maybe you believe Medicare Advantage needs to be expanded because it offers seniors a low-cost way to access non-traditional medical benefits that can improve health outcomes. Alternatively, maybe you think Medicare Advantage is a government-sponsored corporate giveaway that large insurers have exploited to fraudulently inflate their profits by billions.

Either position is defensible. Simply stake your position out, concisely explain why you feel that way, and do it while you’ve still got the reader’s attention.

In other words, say it clearly, and say it early. (This is also known in writing circles as the “nut graf” and if you’re sensing an unfortunate trend in these naming conventions, you’re not alone.)

“Burying the lede” isn’t a topic that lends itself to the blog or listicle format of “X Helpful Tips.” Just be aware that the problem is real and rampant, remain conscious of it, and don’t do it.

Simply answer the two magic clarifying questions – “What is this article talking about and why should anyone care?” – at or near the top of anything you write, and the problem is solved.