December 18, 2017

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.

  • Hook ’Em With a Savvy Structure

    Our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent research.

    According to new studies by such think tanks as The Readership Institute and The Poynter Institute, inverted pyramids: 1) Reduce readership and understanding; 2) Fail to make readers care about the information; and 3) Don’t draw readers across the jump. In short, researchers say, inverted pyramids “do not work well with readers.”

    Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Denver on May 1-2, 2018At Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on May 1-2, 2018 in Denver — you’ll learn a structure that can increase readership, understanding and satisfaction with your message. Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How to organize your message to grab readers’ attention, keep it for the long haul and leave a lasting impression.
    • Three elements of a great lead — and five leads to avoid.
    • How to stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget it).
    • Five ways to avoid the “muddle in the middle.”
    • A three-step test for ending with a bang.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Catch Your Readers - Ann Wylie's persuasive-writing workshop in Denver on May 1-2, 2018

    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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