What is an inverted pyramid? Is it in Egypt?

 Sculpture in San Diego by Nikki de St. Phalle

Sculpture in San Diego by Nikki de St. Phalle

 Q. What is the inverted pyramid? Is it in Egypt?

 A. The inverted pyramid is a news-writing technique with essential information on top and smaller details below. If it were a physical thing, it would appear to be an upside-down – or inverted – pyramid.

If you wrote for your high school or college newspaper, you probably learned to write inverted pyramids. The structure means writing the most important information at the top of the story, arranging the other material in descending order of importance. The end of the piece, then, has the least valuable data.

Use the inverted pyramid to write news and important updates. In the first paragraph or 2, include the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where and why – and sometimes how.

The inverted pyramid structure comes from old newspapers. When typesetters used metal type, they wanted the most vital information at the top. In case a story needed cutting to allow for other material, the typesetter could literally cut off the bottom of the metal plate. And the words that disappeared could vanish without ill consequences.

This format helps you organize your content by forcing you to identify the essence in a single paragraph. Once you master the technique, you can use it in almost any form of nonfiction writing you encounter, including websites.

“The inverted pyramid puts the most newsworthy information at the top, and then the remaining information follows in order of importance, with the least important at the bottom,” says Chip Scanlan, who penned a column on writing advice for Poynter.

This non-Egyptian pyramid works well – but not always. Many competent writers avoid it, thinking it too tame. But IMHO, you can vote against this century-old system only after you master it.

Try it. I think you’ll like it.