Shatter the pyramid

Three ways to create more feature-style stories

Increase the percentage of feature-style stories you produce, and you’ll increase reading.

shatter the pyramid

Break the pyramid habit To increase readership, make most of your messages features. Image by Rick Kimpel

Or so say the researchers behind “Impact,” a 2001 study (PDF) led by the Readership Institute at Northwestern University and sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America and the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

So here, according to the researchers, are three ways to get more features into your communications:

1. Understand that features aren’t fluff.

Feature-style writing isn’t “John Smith has transformed his garage into a toy-train wonderland” or other soft news or human-interest fluff.

“‘Feature-style’ is not a euphemism or proxy for ‘soft news,'” said the researchers. “We’re not describing a story type but a writing style.”

Instead, feature-style writing is:

  • More narrative, with a beginning, middle and end
  • Often told through characters or using anecdotes to help illustrate points
  • Likely to use more colorful language and a more playful writing style
  • More engaging to the reader than a traditional news story

2. Put hard news into the feature story structure.

“Writers can use feature-style writing to cover hard news stories without compromising the stories’ informational value or focus,”write the researchers.

Newspapers with more feature-style political stories, for example, have readers who express higher satisfaction with their political coverage. Yet only 5% of all political stories are written in the feature style, according to the study.

“It’s the papers that incorporate feature-style writing in a broad range of topics that see the most benefit in brand perception,” said the researchers.

3. Increase your percentage of feature-style stories.

Newspapers in the United States use:

  • The inverted pyramid for 69% of stories
  • Feature-style story structure for 18%
  • Commentary for 12 percent

“There is strong evidence that an increase in the amount of feature-style stories has wide-ranging benefits,” the researchers report.

  • Go Beyond the Pyramid

    Master a story structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers

    Writers say, “We use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.” But in new research, readers say, “We stop reading after the first paragraph because you use the inverted pyramid.”

    Go Beyond the Pyramid in Dallas

    Indeed, our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent studies. Studies by the Poynter Institute, Reuters Institute and the American Society of News Editors show that the traditional news structure reduces readership, understanding, sharing, engagement and more.

    Grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression.

    The pyramid doesn’t work well, these researchers say, with a little subset of your audience we call “humans.”

    At Catch Your Readers — our two-day hands-on persuasive-writing master class on Oct. 2-3 in Dallas — you’ll master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative — and avoid making readers’ eyes glaze over by using one of the seven deadly leads.
    • Stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget this entirely.)
    • Avoid the “muddle in the middle” by choosing one of five structural techniques from a rubric created by the founder of TED Talks.
    • Draw to a satisfying conclusion in the penultimate paragraph.
    • End with a bang, not a whimper by using our three-step test.

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