Storytelling techniques have a lot of advocates (including me). However, some storytelling advocates suggest that the traditional writing structure of the inverted pyramid is a thing of the past.
In the inverted pyramid format, the most important facts are presented up front and the least essential information is placed at the end of the piece. Although it’s a traditional journalist technique, even journalists have conflicting views about using this top-down approach. Detractors call it outdated and anti-story since it does not follow storytelling conventions. However, supporters, including some business writers, point out that the inverted pyramid is a useful way to quickly deliver the most vital information in one’s message.
The facts are these: In these fast-paced times, an audience may not have the time or inclination to keep reading all the way to the end of your piece. But with the inverted pyramid structure, even if the reader stops midway, you’ll still have communicated your key points. Also, think about pitch and sales letters; they first hook readers with their most striking point or findings and then provide the supporting information. In other words, they use the inverted pyramid structure.
The delayed-lead or feature style and other storytelling techniques have their place in the PR toolkit, but the inverted pyramid isn’t going anywhere. It often is the best choice for papers and Web pages (since many online readers do not scroll down) as well as news stories and press releases.
How to Write the Inverted Pyramid Structure
In the inverted pyramid, the first paragraph, called the“lead” or“lede,” should incorporate the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and, if applicable, the H (how). You can spill some of that information over to the second paragraph, if necessary. During your review process, always check those two paragraphs to ensure that all the information is summarized at the top of your message.
The subsequent paragraphs should contain facts and examples that support your preceding statements. Next, write the background information for your piece’s topic with the least important details placed at the very end. If you use a bullet list, experts suggest that you also use the inverted pyramid format in the list, with the most important bullet items at the top.
When to Use the Inverted Pyramid Structure
Deciding when the inverted pyramid is appropriate is a matter of personal judgment. However, I do have a few suggestions:
- Straightforward materials such as appointment releases usually do not warrant a narrative. Most of your audience just wants the facts about the person being hired, fired or promoted, not“It all began when …”
- When you have a fact or statistic that will knock your readers’ socks off, you should start with that attention-grabber rather than with a delayed lead.
- Reports, research papers, studies and similar materials typically have an abstract or executive summary that quickly presents the piece’s conclusion or key findings.
As already mentioned, this structure should be only one of the communication methods you have at your disposal. So, how about you? When do you use the inverted pyramid and when do you opt for storytelling?