One of my teammates held a lunch ‘n learn for our team to highlight lessons she learned at a writing workshop. She mentioned the inverted pyramid style of writing – you know, the one that’s represented by a reverse pyramid to show that the most important information comes first, followed by the second most important facts all the way down to the smallest details – is dead. I hadn’t considered it before, but I actually think it makes a lot of sense.
Way back in the days of the telegraph, you had to pay for each character you sent. Considering how many words – let alone characters – are used in a typical article, you can imagine how expensive it got to report the news.
Enter the inverted pyramid style, which is said to have originated during the Civil War to make sure people knew what was happening in and after the battles. See, it wasn’t invented because it’s the best way for you to read stories; it was invented out of necessity. If you didn’t have enough space (or money), the end of your story got chopped off. Hope you had the important details up on top.
Nowadays our writing doesn’t revolve around costs per character – or at least most of the writing we do on the PR team doesn’t. If we wrote in inverted pyramid style all the time, why would you want to keep reading after the first paragraph or two? By that time you would have read all the information you needed. Why take more time to finish off the not-so-important facts?
These observations led me to conclude that inverted pyramid style is not always the best way to share your story. And, as my colleague shared in her presentation, it’s no longer as popular with journalists or readers as it may have once been.
Instead, our PR team at SA focuses on telling a client’s story in ways that will attract the attention of the reader, whether that’s a reporter or a customer. There are plenty of ways to begin your news release, blog posts, articles or whatever else you’re writing. Think about what grabs your attention. Maybe it’s an impressive statistic or a great quote. Maybe it’s a short story. Or maybe it’s the reason the topic is relevant to the audience. Those things aren’t always the most imperative details all at once.
Yes, people need to know facts. But they also need to know why these facts matter, which is why the inverted pyramid style isn’t always a great way to organize your content. What we’ve found works well with various audiences is to insert the facts where they fit with the rest of the piece, not necessarily in descending order of importance.
This style is kind of like an essay. You have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. The intro needs to be your hook with the main point still near the beginning, the body needs to keep you interested and the conclusion needs to tie it all together.
You benefit from this in multiple ways:
1. You get the reader to finish the article, not just start it.
2. The reader knows how the article relates to his/her life
3. Because the reader finds it relatable, he or she is more likely to remember what the article said.
Congratulations, your message got across!
The inverted pyramid style may still fit for breaking news because the vital details are the ones that affect the most people or are of the most interest. But breaking news doesn’t happen every day. And for a majority of the content we write, it makes a lot more sense to engage the reader from the start and fill in those significant details throughout the piece.
Here we are in 2014 with tools (read: the internet) that allow us to send an unlimited number of characters for a flat price or even for free. Why stick to writing styles created because of 1800s technology limitations when it’s not best suited for the intended audience?