Turning the world on its head with the inverted pyramid

Brandon LazovicOctober 9, 2016

Several different job markets tend to use varying forms of writing styles. Each writing style incorporates different grammar rules, sentence structures and citation. One metaphor that will always have a place in the way of writing structure is the inverted pyramid.

What is the inverted pyramid?

The inverted pyramid is a metaphor often used by journalists that illustrates how information should be prioritized when setting up an article. Its origins begin with the telegraph and the structure uses the most newsworthy information at the very top. The remaining information trickles down in order of most important to least important.

Because of the level of importance placed at the top of the pyramid, journalists use what's known as the lead to convey the 5 W's and 1 H of the story. The 5 W's and 1 H answer:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • Why
  • When
  • How

The inverted pyramid forces writers to get to the heart of the story within the first few sentences by stating the thesis in the lead. Journalists have a love-hate relationship with the pyramid because in the journalism world it doesn't leave much room for expansion in articles like feature stories. It also centers stories on facts and their relative news-value.

Its structure is often criticized for being boring, unnatural, and doesn't incentivize readers who get to the end of an article. Yet after decades of critique this paragraph template refuses to die and it may be more vital than ever in this era of technology.

These statistics may shock you - viewer discretion is advised

In statistics cited by Slate.com for every 161 people who landed on their web page, about 61 one of them left that web page within the first few seconds. That numbers to around 38 percent of readers who stop reading and this can be due to a variety of reasons ranging from content, typography, graphic elements, font choices, headlines and sub-heads, the list goes on.

The numbers don't stop there; according to a new study at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.

What does this mean?

This means that if readers don't find what they're looking for in the first few seconds of entering a webpage, they won't read the article. While this may be upsetting for those who spend countless hours refining every word, every sentence, dripping blood, sweat, and tears onto their keyboards with the amount of work that they put into an article, it's going to be alright! That's why the inverted pyramid has stood the test of time since its start through use in telegraphs.

Because the most important information is placed at the top of the pyramid, viewers can figure out whether they're interested in reading further. If they aren't, they probably aren't into the content which is perfectly fine.

Regina Luttrell said in her book Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect that some practitioners try to make their campaigns go viral and named content as either "viral," "contagious," or "sticky." Writers should attempt to make their content sticky as, "This is content that is developed in order to gain the user's attention and increase the possibility that he or she will share the content with others" (pg. 126).

Where else can we use the inverted pyramid?

While the inverted pyramid is quite rigid in the newsroom it does give the general guidelines to writing successful press releases, papers, articles, or blogs. Writing doesn't always have to be structured like a book, where there's a beginning, middle, and end that's sequenced chronologically. The structure for writing is a beautiful thing because anyone can structure what they write any way that they chose.

One of the main things to take away from the pyramid is that while it can be one-dimensional, it gives vital information to interest the reader right from the start. It can be a let-down to reach the end of an article and not feel satisfied by the conclusion, but if the story wasn't engaging from the start would there be any interest in reading it? Writers should strive to engage their audience right from the beginning, from the headline to the first sentence that they read. And if you're still not a fan of the inverted pyramid, that's alright: the hourglass structure is my personal favorite, although I tend to use inverted pyramid more often.


How do you feel about the statistic that over 38 percent of people will stop reading your article within the first few seconds? What about 6 in 10 people sharing articles without even reading them?

If you made it to the bottom of the page feel free to comment and share the post! You didn't just read the headline and share like 59 percent of other people did, and so you win an internet cookie.

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