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The Inverted Pyramid For Business Writing

Updated on January 6, 2018
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Yong earned a bachelor's degree in communication studies in 1999. His interests include history, traveling, mythology, and video gaming.

The Inverted Pyramid: A reliable formula for effective business writing.
The Inverted Pyramid: A reliable formula for effective business writing.

Nope. The Inverted Pyramid is not some new archaeological destination. It is the method of writing used by journalists and many other writers to present information tersely, efficiently and compellingly. Because of its nature, it has many applications for business writing too.

In essence, the Inverted Pyramid acknowledges the likelihood of the audience not reading your article in full. Thus, it places the most important information at the beginning, and gradually dwindles down. This method of writing is particularly useful for businesses, particularly startups. In a world of competition, where hundreds of glossy brochures and sleek websites compete for attention, the likelihood of your client not having the sustained interest to read everything is extremely high. You need to punch your message across immediately. You need to cut to the chase and lock down your client's attention right away. The Inverted Pyramid is the formula to achieve these. Its structure could also be a guideline, if you are having difficulties churning out content.

In a world of competition, the chances of your audience not reading everything is extremely high.

The Lead. The Most Crucial Segment of the Inverted Pyramid

The Inverted Pyramid opens with the lead. This is not the header/headline or the byline. This is instead the first paragraph or statement. In journalism, the lead is where the 5Ws and 1H are. Those would be who, what, where, when, why, and how.

For business writing, it gets simpler. How, in many cases, is already obvious. Your contact information addresses that. This leaves you to juggle the 5Ws. If you are writing a business profile, who, what and why would have primary importance. If you are advertising a sale, naturally when and where should have equal if not more emphasis. Whichever the scenario, the crux of it is that you MUST communicate the cornerstones of your message right away. You must address the fundamental queries. In addition, this also lays the groundwork for the message to develop. It assists in conditioning your client into favouring you.

Of course, approaching business writing in such a way could result in really dry opening statements. Or, you cramp in so much information you unknowingly leave out one of the Ws. To avoid this, experiment with different styles of leads. For example, the attention seizing anecdote. Take note that whichever method you use, the objective remains the same. Communicate your most important information right away. Always assume that the client would not finish reading. Ensure that even when that happens, they at least walk away knowing the basic facts about you.

You MUST communicate the cornerstones of your message right away.

Be aware that often, it's impossible to include every component of the 5Ws and 1H. Be sensible when deciding what's most important to tell.

Which Is the Most Important Element of the 5ws and 1h?

See results

The Body

The body, or the middle segment of the pyramid, is where details are presented. In the case of business writing, this would usually be elaborations of products/services sold, and the justifications to acquire these. Again the principal guideline here is the grim fact that a client might stop reading suddenly. Which means you need to be terse. You need to be concise. Fluff, hyperboles, metaphors, down the drain please. Respect your client as terribly busy professionals and deliver the meat immediately. With the lead you have laid the cornerstones of your message. Here, you fill in the walls and pillars, efficiently.

The Bottom Tip

Traditionally, this is where least important information is assigned to. Things like backgrounds, general information, secondary quotes etc. I would however say that here is where the furnishing of the house comes in. In other words, the auxiliary information that further convinces your client into doing business with you. Examples could be case studies, testimonials from existing customers, or some interesting company background tale. Being the lowest segment of the writing structure, you could be considered on safer grounds at this point. If a client lasts till here, chances are he or she would finish reading. In other words, you could get a tad more colourful. Colourful but not verbose. Brevity remains the core of the Inverted Pyramid, and the focus of good business writing.

Some Relevant Background Information

Space is costly in journalism.
Space is costly in journalism.

Other than encouraging concise writing, the Inverted Pyramid style was also embraced by journalism because it facilitates easy trimming. Publication space remains valuable in print media. Very often, there's simply no space for thousand word articles. Editors therefore need a quick and safe way to trim articles. With this writing style, they simply start chopping from the bottom up.

This bottom-up approach is useful for business writing because chances are, "space" is also limited for you. If you're doing a brochure, and have a lot of product information or pictures to show, you need an efficient, safe way to condense your words, so that you don't run out of layout space. If you're doing a website, or blogging regularly for your company, you would similarly appreciate a systematic way to keep your information digestible for the Internet audience. In short, the Inverted Pyramid is a practical instrument for ensuring you churn out usable, useful business writing, in the fastest way.

Why Brevity in Business Writing?

I don't know about you. But it is very challenging for me to understand a message when I don't at least have a grasp of the fundamental 5Ws

When you swarm me with tales of how satisfied your clients are, or sing accolades of yourself, yet have not told me clearly who you are and what your setup is, all you accomplish is to confuse me. With confusion comes scepticism . Very soon, I suspect you might be hiding something; why aren't you telling me more about yourself? Why aren't you clear on what you exactly sell? My reaction to such scepticism, I go away.

Or, you don't get me suspicious, but you bore me. It's a colourful world out there. There are SO many things to do on the Internet alone. If I need to tire myself with guessing about you, you're not worth the time. There are plenty of other business collateral that grabs my interest in a better way. Or I could just go play Candy Crush or have a soda.

Boredom and distractions are your worst foes in business writing.
Boredom and distractions are your worst foes in business writing. | Source
5Ws and 1H applied to graphic design.
5Ws and 1H applied to graphic design.

Applied to Graphic Design

The same formula could be applied to other forms of communications too. Such graphic layout. The diagram above serves as an example. Be it printed publications or for the Internet, the same principles apply. Your "opening" page lays the groundwork, addressing the 5Ws and 1H. Your subsequent pages or web sections then flesh out the message. Even if your client stops reading after the opening page, they still would have received the crux of your message. When executed properly, they also retain this information for a while. This in turn would be a foundation for you to initiate second contact.

© 2016 Kuan Leong Yong


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