The inverted pyramid became a standard form in American newspapers early in the 20th century, and variations on the form remain common today in news stories, press releases, short research reports, articles, and other forms of expository writing. It is a method of organization in which facts are presented in descending order of importance.
Examples of Inverted Pyramid Composition
"The concept behind the inverted pyramid format is relatively simple. The writer prioritizes the factual information to be conveyed in the news story by importance. The most essential pieces of information are offered in the first line, which is called the lead (or summary lead). This usually addresses the so-called "five W's" (who, what, when, why, and where). Thus, the reader is able to ascertain the key elements of the story immediately. The writer then provides the rest of the information and supporting contextual details in descending order of importance, leaving the least essential material for the very end. This gives the completed story the form of an inverted pyramid, with the most important elements, or the 'base' of the story, on top."
Opening With the Climax
"If the essence of the story is its climax, then a proper inverted pyramid places the story's climax in the lead or opening sentence. The most important elements of a well-written news article thus appear in the lead, the very first sentence of the story."
Cutting From the Bottom
- "The inverted pyramid style in newspaper writing was developed because editors, adjusting for space, would cut the article from the bottom. We can write the same way in a magazine article…
- "We add details as we enlarge the article. So the weight is like an inverted pyramid, with the details of lesser importance at the end of the article.
- "For example, if I write, 'Two children were injured when fire swept through the First Community Church, Detroit, Michigan, on May 10. The fire is believed to have started from unattended candles.' That's complete, but a lot of details can be added in succeeding paragraphs. If space is tight, an editor can cut from the bottom and still save the essential elements."
Using the Inverted Pyramid in Online Writing
"The inverted pyramid structure, typically used in newspaper writing, is also appropriate for long narrative text in online technical documents. Use this structure to organize paragraphs and sentences within a section of narrative text.
To create an inverted pyramid structure, follow these guidelines:
- Use clear, meaningful headings or lists at the beginning of a topic.
- Create separate paragraphs or topics to emphasize important points.
- Do not bury your main point in the middle of a paragraph or topic."
- Robert A. Rabe, "Inverted Pyramid." Encyclopedia of American Journalism, ed. by Stephen L. Vaughn. Routledge, 2008
- Bob Kohn, Journalistic Fraud. Thomas Nelson, 2003
- Roger C. Palms, Effective Magazine Writing: Let Your Words Reach the World. Shaw Books, 2000
- Sun Technical Publications, Read Me First!: A Style Guide for the Computer Industry, 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 2003