Inverted Pyramid: Don’t Bury the Lead — Give People What They Want (Fast)!

Inverted Pyramid

Your attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s.

This isn’t meant to be a personal insult. All of our attention spans are now pretty ba-… wait, how was I going to finish this sentence?

Blame it on what you will – the break-neck speed in which content is published on the internet, the various devices all vying for our attention, or a lifestyle that’s overly digitalized – but there’s no getting away from it. There’s only an 8-second window before concentration plummets.

For journalists, content marketers, and pretty much anyone who uses the written word to deliver information, this isn’t news you want to hear.

But with the inverted pyramid, you can quickly supply global audiences with the news they do want to hear – and quickly (read: before they move onto the next shiny, sparkly thing).

In this post from Process Street, you’re going to learn about the inverted pyramid, the benefits of using it, see examples of it in action, and discover how checklists can help you with getting the right information out there. Fast.

Read through these sections to get completely clued up:

Now, what was the topic again? Oh, right – the inverted pyramid!

What does inverted pyramid mean?

The inverted pyramid is a writing structure used predominantly by journalists and other media writers. The structure is made up of three different stages.

In the first stage known as the ‘lead’ or ‘lede‘, the most noteworthy information comes first – the classic who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story.

The second stage contains additional or ‘secondary’ information that’s helpful to know, but isn’t as critical as knowing the 5 Ws and the how.

The third and final stage is where general, background information comes in to help color a story.

Inverted Pyramid Graphic
(Source)

Inverted pyramid examples (from 1865, 2018, and 2020)

One of the most notorious – and earliest – examples of the inverted pyramid being used concerns the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s the excerpt, originally published in the New York Herald in 1865 (trigger warning: violence):

“This evening at about 9:30 p.m. at Ford’s Theatre, the President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Harris and Major Rathburn, was shot by an assassin, who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.

The assassin then leaped upon the stage, brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theatre.

The pistol ball entered the back of the President’s head and penetrated nearly through the head. The wound is mortal.

The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now dying.

About the same hour an assassin, whether the same or not, entered Mr. Seward’s apartment and under pretense of having a prescription was shown to the Secretary’s sick chamber. The assassin immediately rushed to the bed and inflicted two or three stabs on the chest and two on the face. It is hoped the wounds may not be mortal. My apprehension is that they will prove fatal.

The nurse alarmed Mr. Frederick Seward, who was in an adjoining rented room, and he hastened to the door of his father’s room, when he met the assassin, who inflicted upon him one or more dangerous wounds. The recovery of Frederick Seward is doubtful.

It is not probable that the President will live through the night.”Edwin M.Stanton, President Lincoln Shot by an Assassin

Even though it’s centuries-old, this facts-first method of reporting is still being used across the globe.

Take a look at publications such as the BBC. No matter the news story – whether it’s international or local, on politics or sport – it’ll usually be written in the inverted pyramid style.

For instance, here are the introductory paragraphs from a BBC post published in 2018, where there was daily reporting on Brexit developments (or lack thereof):

“Prime Minister Theresa May has called off Tuesday’s crucial vote on her Brexit deal so she can go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it.

As it stands the deal “would be rejected by a significant margin” if MPs voted on it, she admitted.

But she said she was confident of getting “reassurances” from the EU on the Northern Ireland border plan.

But European Council President Donald Tusk said the remaining 27 EU countries would not “renegotiate” the deal.

While EU leaders would be willing to “discuss how to facilitate UK ratification” of the withdrawal agreement at Thursday’s summit in Brussels, he suggested the controversial Northern Irish backstop, which the DUP and many Tories want removed, would remain in place.

The prime minister’s U-turn came after she and senior ministers had spent days insisting the vote would go ahead, despite the scale of opposition from MPs being obvious.”BBC News (UK), Theresa May calls off MPs’ vote on her Brexit deal

It’s not only journalists using the inverted pyramid to impart essential information quickly – marketers, other media writers, and certain types of bloggers are, too.

As you may have heard, Process Street (which is state-of-the-art BPM software) has secured its Series A funding round from Accel, Atlassian, and Salesforce Ventures. Our supporting blog post – in which Vinay Patankar told our customer base about the huge landmark – was written in the inverted pyramid style:

“I’m very proud and excited to announce that Process Street has raised a $12M Series A from Accel, Atlassian, Salesforce Ventures and other amazing investors.

The funds will go towards our vision of building the GitHub of no-code; where teams around the world can find and use checklists, workflows and automations to improve their productivity at work.

Our mission is to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere. Having experienced investors and leading SaaS partners will put us in a powerful position to achieve this mission.”Vinay Patankar, Accel Leads $12m Series A for Process Street’s No-Code Workflow App

It goes without saying that the inverted pyramid structure wouldn’t have survived this long if it didn’t have any benefits… ⬇️

Benefits of the inverted pyramid writing structure

Inverted pyramid examples
(Source)

There are a million and one ways to structure content. From modular writing to going all-out freestyle, how you structure it depends on the subject matter, your target audience, and what you want them to know, think, or feel.

If you choose to go down the inverted pyramid route, you’ll notice a metric ton of benefits, including (but not limited to):

  • The inverted pyramid style imparts essential info straight away. 🚨
  • Although I’ve mentioned it numerous times already, the big sell of the inverted pyramid is that essential information is displayed immediately. No wondering where the info you want actually is. No giving up halfway through and looking for a different article on the same subject. No burying the lead.

  • It yields SEO benefits. 💻
  • The inverted pyramid structure has several SEO benefits. Firstly, placing your keyword in the first sentence or two means you’re increasing your keyword prominence – which Google likes a lot. Secondly, having important info at the start is a sound way to get featured on Google’s knowledge graph infobox. Lastly, the interaction cost is decreased as you’re engaging readers with content far sooner!

  • It encourages scrolling. 👀
  • Ironically, the inverted pyramid writing structure encourages scrolling. Readers interested in a story won’t only read the first two lines and then leave. They’ll want to know more about the matter at hand, causing them to read through to the second and third stages of the inverted pyramid structure, where extra contextual information is provided.

  • It’s better for those with ADHD, ADD, and dyslexia. 🧠
  • The inverted pyramid is inherently inclusive. Jokes about the general population’s attention span aside, a real struggle for those with ADHD and ADD is concentrating for long periods of time. By front-loading written text with the necessary details first, it means those with more severe concentration difficulties don’t have to wade through an article to get the information they need. Similarly, it’s also better for readers with dyslexia as reading time is reduced.

Not all types of content benefit from the inverted pyramid!

Speaking of irony, you may have noticed that the post you’re reading right now wasn’t written in the inverted pyramid style; I took a storytelling approach.

Why?

Because the inverted pyramid style doesn’t lend itself to all types of content. There are times when you’ll want to take a softer approach, maybe introduce a narrative, bring in personal stories or add subjective takes. This isn’t what the inverted pyramid is about. Instead, it caters to getting to the hard facts, stat.

Ergo: The inverted pyramid can’t be used for all types of content, but what you can use it for, it’ll do wonders.

How to not bury the lead (by taking a systematic approach)

Don't bury the lead
(Source)

Don’t bury the lead.

No, this isn’t a phrase I say to my dog 2 minutes after I let him run wild at the park – it’s a journalistic term. Dorie Clark, a consultant, speaker, and thought leader, explains:

“In journalism, there’s an expression: Don’t bury the lead (also known as the “lede”). Basically, it means you should write the most important thing first; each successive paragraph can flesh out the main idea for those who are interested in reading further.

It’s the same reason politicians need a 10-second version of their pitch (before the door slams), a 30-second version (for those who pretend to be interested before the door slams), and a detailed pitch for the political geeks who invite you inside for lemonade.”Dorie Clark, Don’t Bury the Lead

Now, at the fast-paced rate information is put on the internet – over 4 million blog posts are published per day (not to mention the 500 million daily tweets) – you don’t want to bury the lead. You want to retain the attention of your audience before the 8-second attention span causes them to look elsewhere.

So, how can you ensure the lead doesn’t get buried and you keep readers interested?

By systemizing the process.

Simply put, systemization is creating a system so things can get, well, done. And that system is made up of recurring, repeatable processes.

Let’s take a look at how systemizing the inverted pyramid would work.

In this hypothetical scenario, you’re a digital content marketer.

You and your colleagues already build efficient processes as checklists with Process Street, so recurring tasks always get completed to high standards.

To systemize the inverted pyramid with Process Street, you create a blank checklist template. Then, to begin systemizing, you turn the steps from the pyramid graph (this one) into tasks within your new template. Each separate task – i.e. “Write down the ‘what'”, “Confirm the ‘when'”, etc – will guide you and your fellow writers to creating stellar content that gives the reader what they want to know – fast.

Once you’ve included pyramid-related writing tasks, you can then embellish with other necessary tasks. For instance, steps informing the writer to pass the finished post onto an editor, or to get a peer review on the draft from colleagues first.

After the checklist template has been completed, an infinite number of checklists can be launched, so you and your fellow writers can follow the inverted pyramid writing structure perfectly. Each and every time.

With Process Street, it’s not only incredibly easy to systemize the inverted pyramid writing structure, but all other parts of your business, too.

Ensure your audiences get what they need with Process Street!

Process Street is superpowered checklists.

As explained in the above section, if you document workflows, business processes, and important procedures as templates, you can then use checklists to help you complete those recurring tasks.

For an audiovisual explainer of our business software, check out the video below.

Our workflow features are what make Process Street checklists out-of-this-world.

These features include:

To dig a little deeper into some of these features, watch the following webinar.

Additional resources for systemizing the writing process

We’re a helpful bunch at Process Street.

That’s why, on top of providing information on the inverted pyramid and how Process Street’s checklist app can help, I’m including embeds of ready-made, ready-to-go templates.

These will help you systemize your writing processes. Just sign up for a free account and add them to your dashboard.

Click to get the Blog Idea Processing Checklist.

Click to get the Creating a Newsletter Checklist.

Click to get the Peer Editing Checklist for Bloggers.

Click to get the Blog Content Approval Checklist.

Here’s some more helpful material for you. Read these blog posts to gain incredible insight regarding content creation and marketing psychology:

Now that you’ve realized the power of process, here’s to creating immediately engaging content with the inverted pyramid and Process Street. Don’t forget to sign up for free!

Have you used the inverted pyramid writing structure before? If so, did you find it effective? I’d love to read your comments in the comment section below. 💡

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Thom James Carter

Thom is a junior content writer at Process Street. He has previously worked in copywriting and content creation for multiple start-ups and SMBs. He’s interested in technology, culture, homebrewing, and hiking up the hills and mountains near his home in Edinburgh, Scotland.


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