How to Organize a Paper: The Hourglass Format

The Hourglass

What is the Hourglass Format?

The Hourglass format is an organizational pattern based off the Inverted Pyramid format, where you provide the most important information first and lead towards the details. The Hourglass Format, however, goes into more depth and will end up back at the most important details.

The Hourglass expands on the essentials and important information in order to create a more well-rounded and expansive document.

When Do I Use the Hourglass?

The Hourglass format is commonly used in news writing. It is a useful method for reporting about stories that have a story with narrative aspects, or that have a greater complexity than can be covered in the “5 Ws” of the Inverted Pyramid.

How Does the Hourglass Work?

The Hourglass works in a similar way to the Inverted Pyramid, beginning with the specifics and most important information, then turning to give context and a narrative aspect to the story.

  1. Beginning: The hourglass begins by identifying the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” of the story.
  2. Turn: This is a transition from discussing what has happened to how it happened.
  3. The Narrative: This portion of the format gives good details to the complexities of the story, and gives greater context to what led to the events told in the beginning section.

Example of the Hourglass

Imagine you are writing a story about two children who discovered a mummified body in the woods while digging to build a fort.

There are many components in this story, like how the kids got into the woods, what they were doing while they were there, and how exactly they managed to unearth the body. These are the things to explain in the narrative portion of the format (the bottom of the hourglass).

First, you would begin by identifying and discussing the specifics of the “5 Ws.”

Who: The two children

What: Found a body

When: Yesterday

Where: In the [name specific woods]

Why: They were building a fort and decided to dig.

After this, a transition to the narrative portion is useful. A transition in this case may be something that leads from the why into the complex details. After your reader knows the entirety of the story in summary format (the intro), if they’re still interested, they can read about what happened. Use a narrative transition as you begin telling why the children were in the woods in the first place, what they were trying to build, how they found the tools to unearth the body, what happened when they realized what they found, who they told, where the body is now, etc.

In many ways, you may view the Hourglass format as a retelling of the same story. The first time, you give the simple facts; the second time, after a transition, you give the details.