Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Lead section

The lead section (also known as the lead or introduction) of a Wikipedia article is the section before the table of contents and the first heading. The lead serves as an introduction to the article and a summary of its most important contents. It is not a news-style lead or "lede" paragraph.

The average Wikipedia visit is a few minutes long.[1] The lead is the first thing most people will read upon arriving at an article. It gives the basics in a nutshell and cultivates interest in reading on—though not by teasing the reader or hinting at what follows. It should be written in a clear, accessible style with a neutral point of view.

The lead should stand on its own as a concise overview of the article's topic. It should identify the topic, establish context, explain why the topic is notable, and summarize the most important points, including any prominent controversies.[2] The notability of the article's subject is usually established in the first few sentences. As in the body of the article itself, the emphasis given to material in the lead should roughly reflect its importance to the topic, according to reliable, published sources. Apart from basic facts, significant information should not appear in the lead if it is not covered in the remainder of the article.

As a general rule of thumb, a lead section should contain no more than four well-composed paragraphs and be carefully sourced as appropriate.

The lead section may contain optional elements presented in the following order: short description, disambiguation links (dablinks/hatnotes), maintenance tags, infoboxes, foreign character warning boxes, images, navigational boxes (navigational templates), introductory text, and table of contents, moving to the heading of the first section.

<!--Unless suppressed or modified via special syntax, or the article has fewer than four section headings, the table of contents is automatically generated at this point.-->

The lead must conform to verifiability, biographies of living persons, and other policies. The verifiability policy advises that material that is challenged or likely to be challenged, and direct quotations, should be supported by an inline citation. Any statements about living persons that are challenged or likely to be challenged must have an inline citation every time they are mentioned, including within the lead.

Because the lead will usually repeat information that is in the body, editors should balance the desire to avoid redundant citations in the lead with the desire to aid readers in locating sources for challengeable material. Leads are usually written at a greater level of generality than the body, and information in the lead section of non-controversial subjects is less likely to be challenged and less likely to require a source; there is not, however, an exception to citation requirements specific to leads. The necessity for citations in a lead should be determined on a case-by-case basis by editorial consensus. Complex, current, or controversial subjects may require many citations; others, few or none. The presence of citations in the introduction is neither required in every article nor prohibited in any article.

The lead section should briefly summarize the most important points covered in an article in such a way that it can stand on its own as a concise version of the article. The reason for a topic's noteworthiness should be established, or at least introduced, in the lead (but not by using subjective "peacock terms" such as "acclaimed" or "award-winning" or "hit"). It is even more important here than in the rest of the article that the text be accessible. Editors should avoid lengthy paragraphs and overly specific descriptions – greater detail is saved for the body of the article. Consideration should be given to creating interest in the article, but do not hint at startling facts without describing them.

In general, introduce useful abbreviations, but avoid difficult-to-understand terminology and symbols. Mathematical equations and formulas should be avoided when they conflict with the goal of making the lead section accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Where uncommon terms are essential, they should be placed in context, linked and briefly defined. The subject should be placed in a context familiar to a normal reader. For example, it is better to describe the location of a town with reference to an area or larger place than with coordinates. Readers should not be dropped into the middle of the subject from the first word; they should be eased into it.

According to the policy on due weight, emphasis given to material should reflect its relative importance to the subject, according to published reliable sources. This is true for both the lead and the body of the article. If there is a difference in emphasis between the two, editors should seek to resolve the discrepancy. Significant information should not appear in the lead if it is not covered in the remainder of the article, although not everything in the lead must be repeated in the body of the text. Exceptions include specific facts such as quotations, examples, birth dates, taxonomic names, case numbers, and titles. This admonition should not be taken as a reason to exclude information from the lead, but rather to harmonize coverage in the lead with material in the body of the article.

The first paragraph should define or identify the topic with a neutral point of view, but without being too specific. It should establish the context in which the topic is being considered by supplying the set of circumstances or facts that surround it. If appropriate, it should give the location and time. It should also establish the boundaries of the topic; for example, the lead for the article List of environmental issues succinctly states that the list covers "harmful aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment".

The first sentence should tell the nonspecialist reader what, or who, the subject is. It should be in plain English. Be wary of cluttering the first sentence with a long parenthesis containing alternative spellings, pronunciations, etc., which can make the sentence difficult to actually read; this information can be placed elsewhere.

If an article's title is a formal or widely accepted name for the subject, display it in bold as early as possible in the first sentence:

Otherwise, include the title if it can be accommodated in a natural way:

Only the first occurrence of the title and significant alternative titles (which should usually also redirect to the article)[13] are placed in bold:

Common abbreviations (in parentheses) are considered significant alternative names in this sense:

If an article is about an event involving a subject about which there is no main article, especially if the article is the target of a redirect, the subject should be in bold:

Links should not be placed in the boldface reiteration of the title in the opening sentence of a lead:[14][15]

If the article's title does not lend itself to being used easily and naturally in the opening sentence, the wording should not be distorted in an effort to include it. Instead, simply describe the subject in normal English, avoiding redundancy.

In general, if the article's title (or a significant alternative title) is absent from the first sentence, do not apply the bold style to related text that does appear:

Disambiguation pages use bolding for the link to the primary topic, if there is one.

If the title of the page is normally italicized (for example, a work of art, literature, album, or ship) then its first mention should be both bold and italic text:

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Italian: Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo) is a 1966 Italian epic Spaghetti western film ...

If the mention of the article's title is surrounded by quotation marks, the title should be bold but the quotation marks should not be:

If the subject of the article is closely associated with a non-English language, a single foreign language equivalent name can be included in the lead sentence, usually in parentheses. For example, an article about a location in a non-English-speaking country will typically include the local language equivalent:

Do not include foreign equivalents in the lead sentence just to show etymology.

Do not boldface foreign names not normally used in English. Some foreign terms should be italicized. These cases are described in the Manual of Style for text formatting.

If the name of the article has a pronunciation that is not apparent from its spelling, include its pronunciation in parentheses after the first occurrence of the name. Most such terms are foreign words or phrases (mate, coup d'état), proper nouns (Ralph Fiennes, Tuolumne River, Tao Te Ching), or very unusual English words (synecdoche, atlatl). Do not include pronunciations for names of foreign countries whose pronunciations are well known in English (France, Poland). Do not include them for common English words, even if their pronunciations are counterintuitive for learners (laughter, sword). If the name of the article is more than one word, include pronunciation only for the words that need it unless all are foreign (all of Jean van Heijenoort but only Cholmondeley in Thomas P. G. Cholmondeley). A fuller discussion of pronunciation can come later in the article.

The opening sentence should provide links to the broader or more elementary topics that are important to the article's topic or place it into the context where it is notable.

For example, an article about a building or location should include a link to the broader geographical area of which it is a part.

In an article about a technical or jargon term, the opening sentence or paragraph should normally contain a link to the field of study that the term comes from.

The first sentence of an article about a person should link to the page or pages about the topic where the person achieved prominence.

Exactly what provides the context needed to understand a given topic varies greatly from topic to topic.

Do not, however, add contextual links that don't relate directly to the topic's definition or reason for notability. For example, Van Cliburn's opening sentence links to Cold War because his fame came partly from his Tchaikovsky Competition victory being used as a Cold War symbol. The first sentence of a page about someone who rose to fame in the 1950s for reasons unrelated to the Cold War should not mention the Cold War at all, even though the Cold War is part of the broader historical context of that person's life. By the same token, do not link to years unless the year has some special salience to the topic.

Links appearing ahead of the bolded term distract from the topic if not necessary to establish context, and should be omitted even if they might be appropriate elsewhere in the text. For example, a person's title or office, such as colonel, naturally appears ahead of their name, but the word "Colonel" should not have a link, since it doesn't establish context. Do not, however, reword a sentence awkwardly just to keep a needed contextual link from getting ahead of the bolded term.

When a common (vernacular) name is used as the article title, the boldfaced common name is followed by the italic un-boldfaced scientific name in round parentheses in the opening sentence of the lead. Alternative names should be mentioned and reliably sourced in the text where applicable, with bold type in the lead if they are in wide use, or elsewhere in the article (with or without the bold type, per editorial discretion) if they are less used. It is not necessary to include non-English common names, unless they are also commonly used in English, e.g. regionally; if included, they should be italicized as non-English.

When the article title is the scientific name, reverse the order of the scientific and common name(s) (if any of the latter are given), and boldface as well as italicize the scientific name. Avoid putting the most common name in parentheses (this will suppress its display in some views of Wikipedia, including Wikipedia:Pop-ups and Google Knowledge Graph).

Brassica oleracea is the species of plant that includes many common foods as cultivars, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, savoy, and Chinese kale ...

In some cases the definition of the article topic in the opening paragraph may be insufficient to fully constrain the scope of the article. In particular, it may be necessary to identify material that is not within scope. For instance, the article on fever notes that an elevated core body temperature due to hyperthermia is not within scope. These explanations may best be done at the end of the lead to avoid cluttering and confusing the first paragraph. This information and other meta material in the lead is not expected to appear in the body of the article.

For more information on biographical leads in general, see the main guideline: Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Biography

By the design of Wikipedia's software, an article can have only one title. When this title is a name, significant alternative names for the topic should be mentioned in the article, usually in the first sentence or paragraph. These may include alternative spellings, longer or shorter forms, historical names, and significant names in other languages. Indeed, alternative names can be used in article text in contexts where they are more appropriate than the name used as the title of the article. For example, the city now called "Gdańsk" can be referred to as "Danzig" in suitable historical contexts. The editor needs to balance the desire to maximize the information available to the reader with the need to maintain readability.

Although Wikipedia's naming conventions recommend the use of English, there are instances where the subject of an article is best known in English-language sources by its non-English name. In this case, the non-English title may be appropriate for the article.

The title can be followed in the first line by one or two alternative names in parentheses (but see Wikipedia:Naming conventions (geographic names) for special guidelines for place names). The following are examples of names that may be included parenthetically, although inclusion should reflect consensus.

Consider footnoting foreign-language and archaic names if they would otherwise clutter the opening sentence.[16]

The basic instructions for biographical names are summarized below; the main guideline on this provides additional detail.

If there are three or more alternative names, or if there is something notable about the names themselves, they may be moved to and discussed in a separate section with a title such as "Names" or "Etymology". Once such a section or paragraph is created, the alternative English or foreign names should not be moved back to the first line. As an exception, a local official name different from a widely accepted English name should be retained in the lead.

Where the article is a stub and has no section headings, a lead may not be necessary. Although Wikipedia encourages expanding stubs, this may be impossible if reliably sourced information is not available. Once an article has been sufficiently expanded, generally to around 400 or 500 words, editors should consider introducing section headings and removing the stub classification.

The appropriate length of the lead section depends on the total length of the article. As a general guideline—but not absolute rule—the lead should usually be no longer than four paragraphs. The length of the lead should conform to readers' expectations of a short, but useful and complete, summary of the topic. A lead that is too short leaves the reader unsatisfied; a lead that is too long is intimidating, difficult to read, and may cause the reader to lose interest halfway. The following suggestions about lead length may be useful ("article length" refers to readable prose size):

Lead sections that reflect or expand on sections in other articles are discussed at Summary style. Journalistic conventions for lead sections are discussed at News style.

All users can edit the lead by clicking the edit link of the whole article. By default, there is no edit link just for the lead section, but registered users can get it by enabling one or both of the following preferences (both require JavaScript):

Wikipedia leads are not written in news style. Although there are some similarities, such as putting the most important information first and making it possible for any reader to understand the subject even if they only read the lead, there are some differences. The lead paragraph (sometimes spelled "lede")[17] of newspaper journalism is a compressed summary of only the most important facts about a story. These basic facts are sometimes referred to as the "five Ws": who, what, when, where, and why. Journalistic leads normally are only one or two sentences long. By contrast, in Wikipedia articles, the first sentence is usually a definition, the lead is longer, and it ultimately provides more information, as its purpose is to summarize the article, not just introduce it.

Tabloid, magazine, and broadcast news leads may have "teasers" that intentionally omit some crucial details to entice readers to read or watch the full story. They may even "bury the lead" by hiding the most important facts. This style should never be used on Wikipedia.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, scholars such as Peter Williams and Rolf-Dietrich Claus published their studies on the piece, and argued against its authenticity. Bach-scholars like Christoph Wolff defended the attribution to Bach.
Up to the last quarter of the 20th century the piece was considered authentic. But is it? Read in this article what famous Bach-scholars have written on the topic.

The "teaser" version is wrong on several levels (e.g. also failing a suitable tone) and should not be used in the encyclopedia.

For a list of template messages related to the clean-up of lead sections, see Wikipedia:Template messages/Cleanup#Introduction. Editors are encouraged to improve leads rather than simply tag them.