Bill Bennett

Bill Bennett

Structure your writing like a journalist

Newspapers teach journalists to write using the inverted pyramid.

It isn’t always the best approach, but it is reliable. the inverted pyramid has worked for news writing since the days reporters telegraphed dispatches to editors. Today it works for online writing.

The structure echoes the classic essay structure you were taught — or should have been taught — at school.

The basic format:

Introduction — say what the piece is about; answer questions like who, what, where and when. You can also explain why at this point, although that can wait until later.

Then — expand, amplify;

Keep doing this until you’ve told the whole story. Make the most important points first then add more and more detail in each additional paragraph.

How did this develop? Printed newspaper had limited space for news. Traditional newspaper subeditors would cut a story from the bottom if it needs to fill a specific space on a printed page.

The inverted pyramid structure, with each paragraph being progressively less important, means editors remove the least important information first.

A news story written using the inverted pyramid structure can be cut at the end of any paragraph, even the first paragraph, and still be a self-contained story.

Online this means search engines pay more attention to the most important words – which helps people find your writing. Those opening paragraphs also make neat summaries for listings and similar online uses.

The most important information goes in the first paragraph and each extra paragraph carries progressively less weight. That’s where the inverted pyramid name comes from: the foundation sits at the top, the less important details are at the bottom.