How to use the Inverted Pyramid to write zero fluff news articles

by Dean Evans

In terms of the structure of a news article, the classic Inverted Pyramid favoured by journalists is a process of ordering your information in order of its importance to the reader.

So your first paragraph talks about the main point; the next most important point goes into the second paragraph; the next most important point forms the basis of the third paragraph. And so on.

Using the Inverted Pyramid structure has two benefits…

Why the Inverted Pyramid matters

Firstly, it encourages you to get your main point across quickly – i.e. the launch of a product or the details of an event.

In the fast-paced, skim-reading digital world that we live in, you often only have a few seconds to grab and hold on to a reader’s attention. You’ve got to give them what they’re looking for. Up-front.

So you can’t mess around with a witty aside or a delayed introduction like those you see in magazines or newspapers. You can never assume that your reader will scroll down the page.

Consequently, the most important information in your web copy should appear ‘above the fold’, i.e. what your reader sees onscreen without having to scroll.

Ruthless editing (aka ‘cutting the fluff’)

Secondly, articles written for magazines and newspapers often don’t fit the printed page. The Inverted Pyramid approach enables details to be sliced away from the bottom of the article (i.e. supporting background information or a lengthy quote), without losing any of the real substance.

Web usability king Jakob Nielsen is a fan:

“On the Web, the inverted pyramid becomes even more important since we know from several ageing user studies that users don’t scroll, so they will very frequently be left to read only the top part of an article. Very interested readers will scroll, and these few motivated souls will reach the foundation of the pyramid and get the full story in all its gory detail.”

Of course, you don’t have to follow the Inverted Pyramid method to the letter. Treat it as a guide rather than a set of concrete rules for article writing.

Its effectiveness will ultimately depend on what you’re writing about and who you’re writing for.

From Pyramid to Hourglass

You can see the Pyramid’s influence everywhere. And not just in news writing. TV documentaries often start by teasing the content that will be explored over the next 45 minutes. News programmes give you the main headlines first, before reporting each one in more detail in diminishing order of importance.

An evolution of the Inverted Pyramid idea is the ‘hourglass’. This follows the same format as the Pyramid, but adds a big finish. By teasing information early on in your article, you can often keep people reading to the end when you eventually reveal it.

And by keeping the reader on-page, you can expose them to more of your page furniture – adverts, post teasers, most popular article lists or related links.

You don’t have to use the inverted pyramid or the hourglass tactic. But if you take one thing away from the upside-down triangle graphic here, it should be to front-load your most important info.

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