Using the Inverted Pyramid for Content Writing

We see a lot of content marketers talking smack about using formulas for writing. They say formulas make writing dull, limit creativity, and make all content marketing read the same. They’re wrong. All writing — creative, content, journalism, research, you name it — starts with a formula. It’s the words you choose and the stories you tell that make it worthwhile.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to the inverted pyramid for content writing and explain how to adapt this historic journalistic structure for your content writing.

The Formula for Journalistic Writing

You may not know this, but most of Content Journey’s writing team worked in journalism at one point or another. So, it makes sense that, to prove our point about formulaic writing, we draw from journalism’s formula — the inverted pyramid.

The inverted pyramid presents information from most important to least important. It allows readers to get the gist of the news as soon as they start reading. But good writing in the inverted pyramid format draws the reader in and makes them want to keep reading. All journalistic writing uses a version of the inverted pyramid. It helps readers feel comfortable with a standardized structure among all news outlets, and it allows editors to trim content from the bottom, if necessary.

The journalistic inverted pyramid has four parts:

  1. Lead. The lead tells the reader what the story is about. It’s the most up-to-date news in a sentence or two.
  2. Nutgraph. The nutgraph supports the lead with additional information. It puts the lead in context. Together the lead and nutraph answer the who, what, when, and where. The best quote that builds on the story’s subject generally follows the nutgraph. 
  3. Body. The body is the meat of the story. It’s where the writer answers the how and why. It’s also where writers introduce news sources and their views.
  4. End. In news, the ending just happens. The writer doesn’t summarize or tie a pretty bow around the story. When they’ve told the story, they just stop writing. Other types of journalism, like feature writing, may revisit the lead or end the story with a quote.

The guaranteed structure of a news story means that journalists can write them quickly and get the people the information they seek or, more importantly, what they need to know. It also provides the reader comfort that they’re getting facts and not a lot of fluff or opinion.

Using the Inverted Pyramid in Content Writing

Content marketing isn’t journalism. While journalism aims to provide people with the information they need to participate in democracy, content writing promotes businesses. They serve different functions, but you can apply many journalistic principles to content writing.

Journalism’s inverted pyramid applies to content writing. All you have to do is alter it a bit. 

The inverted pyramid for content writing borrows from journalism's historic writing structure to make your writing simple and engaging.

The inverted pyramid for content writing has four parts:

  1. Introduction. The introduction is essentially the lead. It tells the reader what the piece is about while drawing in and making them want to keep reading. Intros need to be catchy. A key difference with an intro is that it also includes the content’s SEO keywords. 
  2. Context. The context in content writing is a lot like the nutgraph in journalism. It puts the introduction into context. It’s a good spot to provide a quote, statistic, or definition that stands out and relays the issue’s importance.
  3. H2s. These secondary headers act as the body of a content piece. They build on the post’s title and explain the post’s content. A reader could read just the title and H2s and generally understand what the post is about.
  4. Call-to-Action. While journalistic news stories just end, the ending of a content piece is critical to its purpose. The CTA is where you tell the reader what you want them to do next. But you phrase it so that they understand why this is the logical next step for them. It’s where you encourage them to engage with your client and generally what the piece worked toward. Check out our post on Best Practices for CTAs to learn more about writing them.

Other Writing Style Similarities

We promise that applying the inverted pyramid to your content won’t make it boring or trite. Only bad writing does that. And the inverted pyramid isn’t the only thing content marketing borrows from journalism.

Content marketing also uses journalistic style including:

  • Interviews
  • Short paragraphs (even one sentence is enough)
  • Active voice
  • Bullet points
  • Associated Press Style
  • Visuals like graphics and photos

Journalistic writing provides clarity on complex issues. Why wouldn’t content marketing borrow as many stylistic rules from journalism as possible when you think about it that way?

Still Don’t Want to Write?

We can use one of these writing formulas and quickly create compelling, accurate content — just like journalists do. But we also understand that just because we can do it doesn’t mean you can. Some people don’t enjoy writing. Others don’t write for their jobs and don’t have time to fit it into their daily tasks. Whatever your reasoning, we’re here to help. If you recognize the importance of content marketing for your business but don’t want to write yourself, book a call. We’d love the opportunity to help you along your content journey.

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