How to Organize a Paper: The Inverted Pyramid Format

Inverted Pyramid

What is the Inverted Pyramid?

The Inverted Pyramid is a structure that places all of the essential information at the beginning of the document. The goal is to make sure that the audience gets the most relevant and important information in the shortest amount of time possible, especially in instances where the information is important for their safety or where they may not have  the time or patience to read a long story.

The Inverted Pyramid style is an organizational structure that allows for easy skimming, and works well for information that is needed quickly, as the most important information is given at the very beginning of the document.

When Do I Use the Inverted Pyramid?

It is common to see the Inverted Pyramid format in news writing. This format is ideal if you have a past or upcoming event or something similar to write about.

It is also useful for conveying simple information that is needed quickly. This may be in a public service announcement, perhaps a form of memo, or other document that is designed to distribute information in a timely manner.

How Does the Inverted Pyramid Work?

The Inverted Pyramid works in the opposite manner to many other formats, where you typically build towards a conclusions. It begins with the specific information, which is like the thesis statement, but then works backwards into providing context and extra details.

The following elements should always be included at the beginning of a document in the Inverted Pyramid format:

  1. Who: Who is the subject of the information? Is it a person, and organization? A department?
  2. What: What has/will happen?
  3. When: When did/will the event happen?
  4. Where: Where did/will the event occur?
  5. Why: Why is this happening?

These elements are commonly referred to as “the 5 W’s.” Occasionally you will see “how” added to them, which is an element that may be part of the essentials depending on the topic you are covering. This information is usually put into a summary lead or “lede,” which is the first sentence or paragraph.

After these essentials are discussed, you can work on adding less important details. These details are like the support in many other formats. These details may include quotes, statistics, context, etc. Adding details usually begins with a “nut graf” that expands on the lead and begins to add more detailed information to the general summary of the lead.

Depending on what you find most important after the 5 W’s, you may put things in varying orders, as the Inverted Pyramid format calls for the next most important information to come directly after the 5 W’s, and so on until you are out of information to add.

Occasionally, the end of an inverted pyramid style story will have a “kicker,” which is a fun fact or thought provoking element that may be added at the very end of the story. Sometimes this takes the form of a call to action. It is not an essential part of the format, but an option for you to use.

Example of the Inverted Pyramid

Imagine that you are writing an article for a newsletter about a retirement party that your department held for a recently retired co-worker. You would begin by detailing the 5 W’s.

  1. Who: Your Department
  2. What: Held a retirement party
  3. When: Last Friday
  4. Where: In the break room
  5. Why: Your co-worker was retiring.

From here you would add details about the retirement party, perhaps with details about your retired co-worker, like how many years he or she had been with the company, maybe some quotes from people who were at the party about the co-worker, about any gifts the co-worker received, etc.