First things first Writing content with the inverted pyramid style

Journalists have been using the inverted pyramid writing style for ages. Using it, you put your most important information upfront. Don’t hedge. Don’t bury your key point halfway down the third paragraph. Don’t hold back; tell the complete story in the first paragraph. Even online, this writing style holds up pretty well for some types of articles. It even comes in handy now that web content is increasingly used to answer every type of question a searcher might have. Find out how!

What is the inverted pyramid?

Most readers don’t have the time or desire to carefully read an article, so journalists put the critical pieces of a story in the first paragraph to inform and draw in a reader. This paragraph is the meat and potatoes of a story, so to say. This way, every reader can read the first paragraph — also known as the lead — and get a complete notion of what the story is about. It gives away the traditional W’s instantly: who, what, when, where, why and, of course, how.

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The introductory paragraph is followed by paragraphs that contain important details. After that, follows general information and whatever background the writers deem supportive of the narrative. This has several advantages:

  • It supports all readers, even those who skim
  • It improves comprehension, everything you need to understand the article is in that first paragraph
  • You need less time to get to the point
  • It gives writers a full paragraph to draw readers in
  • Done well, it encourages readers to scroll and read the rest of the article
  • It gives writers full control over the structure
  • It makes it easier to edit articles

An example

Here’s an example of such an intro. Marieke wrote an article called What is SEO? that answers exactly that question in an easy to understand way. She gives away the answer immediately, but also uses triggers to get people to read the rest of the article. Here’s the intro:

“SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It’s the practice of optimizing websites to make them reach a high position in Google’s – or another search engine’s – search results. SEO focuses on rankings in the organic (non-paid) search results. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What is SEO?” and I’ll explain how we perform SEO at Yoast.”

The inverted pyramid is just one of many techniques you can use to present and structure content. You can use it to write powerful news articles, press releases, product pages, blog posts or explanatory articles, like we do.

This style of writing, however, is not suited for every piece of content. Maybe you write poetry, or long essays with a complete story arc or just a piece of complex fiction. Critics are quick to add that the inverted pyramid style cripples their creativity. But, even then, you can learn from the techniques of the inverted pyramid that helps you to draw a reader in and figure out a good way to structure a story. And, as we all know, a solid structure is key in getting people — and search engines — to understand your content. Marieke wrote a great article on setting up a clear text structure.

The power of paragraphs

Well-written paragraphs are incredibly powerful. These paragraphs can stand on their own. I always try to write in a modular way. I’m regularly moving paragraphs around if I think they fit better somewhere else in the article. It makes editing and changing the structure of a story so much easier.

Good writers give every paragraph a stand-out first sentence, these are known as core sentences. These sentences raise one question or concept per paragraph. Someone who scans the article by reading the first sentence of every paragraph will get the gist of it and can choose to read the rest of the paragraph or not. Of course, the rest of the paragraph is spent answering or supporting that question or concept.

It’s all blocks these days anyways

On the web, there is a movement towards block-based content. Google uses whole paragraphs from articles to answers questions in the search results with featured snippets or answer boxes. The voice search revolution is powered by paragraph-based content. Even our beloved WordPress CMS will move to a block-based new editor called Gutenberg. These blocks are self-contained pieces of content that search engines are going to enjoy gobbling up. We can even give these blocks the structured data needed to let search engines know exactly what content is in that block. Blocks are it — another reason you need to write better paragraphs.

Answering questions

Something else is going on: a lot of content out there is written specifically to answer questions based on user intent. Google is also showing much more questions and answers right away in the search results. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to structure your questions and answers in such a way that is easy to digest for both readers and search engines. This also supports the inverted pyramid theory. If you want to answer a specific question, do that right beneath that question. Don’t obfuscate it. Keep it upfront. You can answer supporting questions or give a more elaborate answer further down the text. If you have data supporting your answer, please present it.

How to write with the inverted pyramid in mind

The inverted pyramid forces you to think about your story: what is it, which parts are key to understanding everything? Even if you don’t follow the structure to the letter, focusing on the essential parts of your story and deleting the fluff is always a good thing. In his seminal work The Elements of Style, William Strunk famously wrote:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.”

In short, writing works like this:

  • Map it out: What are the most important points you want to make?
  • Filter: Which points are supportive, but not key?
  • Connect: How does everything fit together?
  • Structure: Use sub-headers to build an easy to understand structure for your article
  • Write: Start every paragraph with your core sentence and support/prove/disprove/etc these in the coming sentences
  • Revise: Are the paragraphs in the correct order? Maybe you should move some around to enhance readability or understanding?
  • Edit: I.e. killing your darlings. Do you edit your own work or can someone do it for you?
  • Publish: Add the article to WordPress and hit that Publish button

Need more writing tips? Marieke gives 10 tips for writing an awesome and SEO-friendly blog post.

Try it

Like I said, not every type of content will benefit from the inverted pyramid. But the inverted pyramid has sure made its mark over the past century or more. Even now, as we mostly write content for the web this type of thinking about a story or article makes us focus on the most important parts — and how we tell about those parts. It forces you to separate facts from fiction and fluff from real nuggets of content gold. Try it out and your next article might turn out to be the best yet.

Read more: SEO copywriting: the ultimate guide »

33 Responses to First things first: writing content with the inverted pyramid style

  1. tmtaba
    tmtaba  • 2 days ago

    I’ll definitely give it a go. Such an informative post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Albert Muthumbi
    Albert Muthumbi  • 1 week ago

    Wow. That was very insightful. I will surely use these guidelines in my content writing

  3. Eden
    Eden  • 2 weeks ago

    Thank you for the wonderful guidance. Yoast has been in fact a guiding force for Newbies like me.

    Once Again Thank You, Edwin.

  4. Diane Dahli
    Diane Dahli  • 2 weeks ago

    Inverted pyramid! I knew immediately what it meant! Great article, packed with suggestions that will help me hone my writing. Thank you, Edwin!

  5. Fiona Brichaut
    Fiona Brichaut  • 2 weeks ago

    Hi Edwin,
    thanks for your super interesting article! It’s an excellent overview of how to write well using the inverted pyramid. You and your readers might also be interested to learn about the inverted ladder. It’s a writing technique that’s a variation on the inverted pyramid – especially useful for writing content that is easy to read on mobile devices! In a nutshell, the inverted ladder is a way to use the inverted pyramid technique but to hold your readers’ interest for longer as they read through or scan the content. It’s explained in my book Writing for Mobile (available from Amazon).

  6. Rajeev
    Rajeev  • 2 weeks ago

    Hi Edwin
    Amazing Stuff! its really awesome tips writing content with the inverted pyramid style.
    Thanks for sharing valuable article

  7. Poonam Shukla
    Poonam Shukla  • 2 weeks ago

    Hi,
    I am very keen on writing contents so I was looking for this kind of article. My idea about how to write content is very much clear now. Thanks

  8. Rolf
    Rolf  • 2 weeks ago

    I agree totally, users read texts on the Internet in another way. If the first paragraph is not interesting, they skip the whole article. The AIDA concept still works fine.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Yep, time is precious. Plus, there are many competitors ready to lure your readers away. You should do everything you can to keep your readers hooked on your stories! Don’t fake it, though ;)

  9. Gracious Store
    Gracious Store  • 2 weeks ago

    Surely! Putting the most important information up front for your readers is very important, especially these days that we are “information overloaded”. We all tent to scan through to find what is relevant and then move on to the next post.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Exactly. And by writing this way, you give readers the chance to make up their mind quickly: should I dedicate my valuable time to this article yes or no?

  10. Santanu
    Santanu  • 2 weeks ago

    This is really awesome and best trick to write content. I was not aware about this term before. Many thanks for sharing this useful guide.

    • Edwin Toonen

      You’re welcome, Santanu!

  11. Mike Sealander
    Mike Sealander  • 2 weeks ago

    A good and important article, but why is it called “inverted pyramid?”

    • Edwin Toonen

      In this case, the pyramid is upside down because the bulk of the must-know information is presented first. Maybe it’s more a kind of funnel than a pyramid because you start with the most important pieces and work your way down the funnel.

  12. Sean Davis
    Sean Davis  • 2 weeks ago

    Very helpful, Yoast is my biggest SEO educator, thanks very much.

    • Edwin Toonen

      You’re welcome, Sean.

  13. Vincent
    Vincent  • 2 weeks ago

    Thanks for the writing tips. Well written and structured content is in the end, the most important part of your site. I can really use this is on my own two sites. Making good content for them is a long learning process, but I hope I can reach my goal one day.

    • Edwin Toonen

      I know not everybody is born a writer, but everyone can learn how to write good articles. Read and write as much as you can. You know the saying: practice makes perfect!

  14. eleanor cupido
    eleanor cupido  • 2 weeks ago

    A real eye-opener & very informative, thank you

    • Edwin Toonen

      Thanks, Eleanor!

  15. David Emmanuel
    David Emmanuel  • 2 weeks ago

    So amazing. Yoast is the best plugin for SEO. The good thing about them they won’t leave you alone to work, they will work with you. Guild you. Educate you. Am truly blessed with this article. Thanks a lot.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Thanks, David!

  16. Muhammad
    Muhammad  • 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Mr Toonen, The post was helpful!

    • Edwin Toonen

      Thanks!

  17. Zai Z
    Zai Z  • 2 weeks ago

    Thanks for the article. It helps me. However, I think it will be much better if we don’t just focus on the structure itself, but also a story that we put into the article. Since i think article with story is always best and personal.

    • Edwin Toonen

      Hi Zai. You’re absolutely right. A story is something else. If you want to tell a compelling story you need a story arc, plus a great opening and ending. But even then you need to figure out how to draw people into your story. It needs to be interesting and you need to guide people through the story. So, even in a story structure is important. We don’t want people to miss the point you — or your characters — are making, right?

  18. Eldo
    Eldo  • 2 weeks ago

    I wonder if you made this article a long time ago, then I wouldn’t have made this mistake. :D
    But, everything is a part of learning so I will try to recreate my old blog post and do this “Inverted Pyramid Style”.

    Thank’s Edwin for the post. This is an amazing article.

    • Edwin Toonen

      No worries, Eldo. Writing is learning. You are never done. It is OK to adopt a certain style you’re comfortable with. There’s no need to try everything there is, but sometimes is can give you new ways of looking at the material. A new angle might eventually lead to the best story you’ve written to date. So experiment away!

  19. Mark Tyson
    Mark Tyson  • 2 weeks ago

    Can paragraphs influence our SEO?

    • Edwin Toonen

      Well-written paragraphs enhance the readability of an article. It enhances understanding. Readers will instantly know what you are trying to say. And by weaving all your well-written paragraphs together you are building a fantastic article. The best-written articles about a subject have a bigger chance of Google picking these up for inclusion in the top search results for a particular query. So yeah, I’d say paragraphs are building blocks for future SEO-success.

  20. Rebekka Deforce
    Rebekka Deforce  • 2 weeks ago

    Amazing tip! I will absolutely try this. Thanks!

    • Edwin Toonen

      Great, good luck Rebekka!


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