Writing Journalism: The Inverted Pyramid

Undoubtedly the most used text-structure in news journalism and on the web is the inverted pyramid.

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor often used by writing instructors to illustrate how information should be arranged or presented within a news story. The pyramid’s broad base at the top of the figure represents the key information the writer means to convey.This is what the rest of the article will illustrate, often supported by quotes from individual’s involved in the story.

The inverted pyramid structure dominates the majority of news reporting on the web and in print media because as a structure it ensures that readers can leave the story at any point and understand it, even if they don’t have all the details.

If you’re going to get anywhere in news reporting you have to be able to do this structure with your eyes closed.

Journalists typically start an article by telling the reader the conclusion (“Steven Gerrard scored the winner for Liverpool in yesterday’s cup tie against Man Utd”), follow by the most important supporting information, and end by giving the background. This style is known as the inverted pyramid for the simple reason that it turns the traditional pyramid style around.

The reason Inverted-pyramid writing is useful is that readers can stop at any time and will still get the most important parts of the article.

On the Web, the inverted pyramid is important as the likes of usability guru Jacob Nielsen have shown us that users don’t scroll.

The key to holding your audience’s attention is to hit them with a good headline and then fill out the rest of the article with sub-headings to keep them scanning all the way to the end.