Do you bury the lede?

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Readers want you to get to the point. Put the information they most need to know at the top of your messages.

By Laura Hale Brockway | Posted: September 26, 2014

When I was in journalism school we called the failure to mention the most important, interesting, or attention-grabbing elements of a story in the first paragraph of a story “burying the lede.”

In corporate communications, “burying the lede” refers to the failure to mention the most important or actionable items at the beginning of your message, whether it comes in an email, a press release, or a Facebook post.

To use a recent example, let’s say you are writing an email to all employees explaining your company’s flu vaccination policy. The policy states that all employees must receive a flu shot or file a declination form. Otherwise, they’d be subject to disciplinary action. You wouldn’t begin this email with facts and statistics about the flu. You would start the email by calling attention to the steps employees need to take to avoid disciplinary action.

Something like this:

Because receiving a flu vaccine is the best way to protect our patients, families and ourselves from the flu, all employees must receive a flu vaccine or file a declination form with Human Resources by December 1. Several vaccination clinics will be open to all employees in October. Receive your free flu shot at the following locations . . .

The following paragraphs could then further explain the “why” and include statistics about the flu.

As experienced communicators, PR Daily readers know not to “bury the lede.” But that’s not always the case with our clients and executives, many of whom insist on putting background information or information that is irrelevant to your readers front and center.

When working with these insistent clients, I point out that readers may have very little time or bandwidth to digest their messages. Too much information can distract and overtax readers, leading them to ignore the message completely. I ask clients if their message would be understood by someone who is reading it on their phone while standing in line at the grocery store.

I also point out that background information and statistics can still be included in the message, just not at the very beginning. That information can be linked or can be listed at the end under the heading “Background” or “Quick Facts.” I also offer options, such as adding an infographic or putting complicated information in a table.

Readers, care to share your tips on how to unbury ledes?

Laura Hale Brockway is medical writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. She writes about writing at impertinentremarks.com. 

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