The inverted pyramid, now for web and devices

One of the smartest things I have heard is an idea of the old journalism inverted pyramid for reading on the web and devices.

In case you don’t have a j-school background, the basic idea of the inverted pyramid is that you have all the most important things up front: What happened, who made it happen, where and when it happened. Background and explanation and details get added as you go down the story. The move from broad to specific and significant to less significant can be represented as a pyramid shape, which is a visual that helps people understand how to write it.

I don’t remember the name of the person who said, it, but I know she was with the Online News Association and speaking at a conference I went to maybe 10 years ago. She said that when you read on the web, you are not moving down a page, you are moving back into broader content. It’s like the top point of the pyramid is the blurb on the home screen, and as the user clicks through the chunks, they are getting broader information and more specific details.

As a writer structures a web story, then, the challenge is to create paths through the information that will make sense, since the reader isn’t constrained to what fits on the page they are holding.

I think this has several implications for writers:

  • The lead (that who, what, where, when) part is very important, because it gives the information the reader will use to make choices. It needs to be accurate, but also to use the same language that the rest of the information path will use. If I wrote this piece about the upside-down triangle, but the links went to inverted pyramid, I’ve done the reader a disservice.
  • Make links the signs on the pathways going back into the information. The relationship between where you are and where you are going needs to be clear to enable the reader to get a comprehensible picture.
  • Plan for links up front Instead of writing what you want, splitting paragraphs to make chunks, and adding links to things that are easy to find for you as the writer, plan for the links as you are outlining your story. Think find what you need, not need what you find.

Learn more:

The inverted pyramid is still a great way to organize stories for busy readers. Here’s a checklist that can help you get your piece in order.

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