Inverted pyramid: how to write with impact
The ‘inverted pyramid’ is a tried and tested formula for giving your writing more impact.
With the inverted pyramid, you put the most important information – your key message – at the start of whatever it is you're writing. You then present your lesser points in descending order of importance.
Journalists use the inverted pyramid all the time. Think about the last time you read a newspaper. How many stories did you finish?
How many stories did you read beyond the first couple of paragraphs? The standfirst? (That’s the introductory paragraph after the headline). Or, even, the headline?
The writers of your daily paper know you won’t read every word they produce. So they ‘frontload’ their stories, packing all the essential info in the headline, standfirst and first few paragraphs.
To make your next business document more persuasive, take a tip from the journalists by putting your key message right up front.
Just like that newspaper reader, your average time-pressed business person doesn’t have the time or inclination to hunt for what you think is important. So never bury your message.
A quick and simple way to identify your key message
In a journalistic piece, the key message is the latest news (and not the background to the news).
In a piece of business writing, the key message will usually be the thing you want your reader to do (and not, say, the background to why you want them to do it).
To get your inverted pyramid, start by asking yourself this question:
“What do I want my reader to do after reading this?”
Write down your answer. In an inverted pyramid, that’s your first line. Everything else you need to say follows from there.
Use the inverted pyramid to stand out
Most business writers don't use the inverted pyramid. Instead, they bury their key message in boring background blurbage (how we got here) or self-congratulatory corporate puffery (why we're so great).
That's because the inverted pyramid contrasts with the way most of us were taught to write at school and university. In an essay, the most important information – the meat of your argument – is buried in the middle, like this:
Meat (argument 1, argument 2, argument 3 etc)
The essay format works when you’ve got a captive audience (like your college professor).
But in a business context, where you have to fight for your reader’s attention, the inverted pyramid will give you the edge. And set you apart from all those other business writers who are still writing for their Prof.