Too often, I find myself wading through all sorts of formulaic press releases and emails. I don’t have time to wait three paragraphs before getting the actual message or request. I want the sender to get to the point, immediately. This brings to mind the Inverted (upside down) Pyramid.

This is a style of writing that originated during the Civil War. It was developed by necessity. Telegraph lines of communication were frail at best. They could be cut by the enemy or simply give out mid-message. Reporters learned a terse style that gave the whole story in the headline and the first paragraph.

Union Victorious at Gettysburg

“The union forces won a sweeping victory today at Gettysburg, PA. After three days of fighting, the confederate forces retreated.”

That’s the heart of the story. Who won or lost? That’s the big item. They revealed it at once.

The rest of the story would trot out the casualties, the tactics, the names of the generals, and other details. But if the lines got cut, at least the readers got to know the final result.

The inverted pyramid has the big story up top and successive details flow downward from it. But the first paragraph should be enough. It should also let the reader determine his or her interest in continuing with the story.

This concise style has fallen out of fashion. These days, you hear about making stories more human. The writer tries to make a personal connection or establish rapport with a slice of life or heart-wrenching story in the intro. That style may have been fresh 40 years ago, but its time has come and gone. It’s better to just get to the point. What’s it about? Tell me in one paragraph if I need to read it or not.

The inverted pyramid style sits diametrically opposed to this modern touchy feely school. It consists of:

  1. Covering the main points of the article in the first paragraph. Even if you take away the rest of the story, those first sentences still include all the important data.
  2. This is particularly important in press releases. Boil your message down to a couple of points and say them upfront. If you bury them later in the material, readers might miss the point. If you are sending press releases to magazines, make it easy for the editor or reporter to spot the vital information. Typically, they don’t print all your press release content anyway. Their job is often to cut it down to a paragraph or two. The Inverted Pyramid makes it easy for them to do so.

But even in articles, it often makes sense to tell the reader the point of the story during the introduction. Then lay out the details later on.