ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
May 16, 2012

Three Trends in Story Structure: Beyond the Inverted Pyramid


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Writers usually say that they use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.

Meanwhile, readers typically say that they stop reading after the first paragraph because writers use the inverted pyramid.

Before you pound out your next pyramid, check out the following three trends in story structure:

1. Making an impact. Feature-style writing increases the chance that readers will spend more time with a publication, read it more completely and read it more often.

That was one of the most compelling discoveries of “Impact,” a 1999 study by the Readership Institute. The study also found that feature-style writing:

  • Increases reader satisfaction
  • Is easier to read than the traditional inverted-pyramid approach
  • Improves a publication’s brand image, making it seem more honest, fun, neighborly, intelligent and in touch with its readers’ values

2. Working well with readers. Storytelling performed better than traditional news stories, according to “Ways with Words,” a 2006 study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and The Poynter Institute.

The study found that traditional, inverted-pyramid stories:

  • “Do not work well with readers,” and “did not justify their predominance in today’s newspapers”
  • Score low in readership and understanding
  • Earn mediocre ratings in “involvement,” or whether the story made readers care about the news

3. Drawing in readers. The Associated Press is rethinking its commitment to the inverted pyramid’s traditional, “just the facts” news approach.

The nation’s dominant news service is now sending a feature lead in addition to a news lead with its stories. The feature leads are designed to “draw in the reader through imagery, narrative devices, perspective or other creative means,” according to the AP.

Why the change? The 156-year-old wire service is trying to reach more readers in a competitive information environment. AP leaders believe that feature leads are one way to do that.

That approach is a long way from the standard who, what, when, where, why and how.

Beyond the pyramid

Instead of sticking with the inverted pyramid for every piece, master the feature-style story structure. Use a beginning-middle-end essay formula and illustrate your main ideas with concrete, creative details, especially in the lead and last paragraph.

Copyright © 2012 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Public Relations Tactics.

Ann Wylie, president of Wylie Communications, serves as a PRSA writing trainer and presents writing workshops throughout the country. She is the author of more than a dozen learning tools, including “Writing for Social Media: How to Write Blog Postings, Tweets and Other Status Updates” and “Writing That Sells.”.

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