Whether writing for web or print, entry points and a clear hierarchy of information help readers to decide whether (and where) to jump in to your article
The point of writing is to get that particular piece of writing actually read by someone. It doesn’t matter if the writing is a magazine article, blog post, poem, or hate mail, the point is to have someone read it. Usually, more readers are better. Your writing can cover a complicated topic, like vapor diffusion through a roof assembly, or a simple one — like knock-knock jokes.
Good writing doesn’t waste the reader’s time.
Good articles have a focused topic and are well organized. Regardless of how well focused and organized the main text of an article is however, it looks exactly like an unfocused and disorganized article — it looks like a bunch of words on a page. That’s where entry points and levels of information come in.
Entry points help readers decide whether to invest their time in your words
Key entry points are the headline, subtitle, and introductory paragraph. In editor-speak these are called HED, DEK, and LEDE respectively. Other entry points are photos with captions, illustrations, charts, sidebars, and pull quotes.
Heds, deks, ledes, and other short chunks of text are among the hardest to write because they have a specific job to do and very little space in which to do it. Not only are they hard, they’re the most important. If poorly written, no one will make it to your main text.
HEDS, DEKS, and LEDES from authors are frequently re-written by editors because they are the highest-dollar pieces of real estate on a page — they take up a lot of space and they are the biggest gamble.
Levels of information help readers find what they need
Not surprisingly, all of those entry points are not equal; the buck stops at the headline — or the sale begins with the headline. Each entry point from the hed to the endbox has a particular job to do. In general, each level of information should help readers choose whether the next level is what they want to buy in to.
The job of the hed is to move readers to the dek. The dek’s job is to move readers to the lede. The lede sells the article. Subheads help readers make choices about where to jump in. Sometimes they are the next level of information read after the dek, and before the lede.
Sidebars are good for people who are interested in, but not seeking out, the main article. They broaden the audience.
Next up: How to Write Great Heds and Deks