Feature-style story structure outperforms the traditional news format
“Prose is architecture,” said Ernest Hemingway. “It’s not interior design.”
When you write, you’re building something. Specifically, when you’re writing corporate communications, content marketing or public relations messages, you’re building an argument.
So what organizing structure would make the best foundation for your message?
Many of us learned early on that the inverted pyramid was the only way to organize information. Because of that, most communicators are so committed to the inverted pyramid that we married it in college, have sustained a monogamous relationship with it over the years and have made lots of babies with it.
Friends, it’s time to start flirting around with some other forms.
Why topple the inverted pyramid style?
Why do away with the pyramid — and choose the feature-style structure instead?
More than 25 years of research tells us that the inverted pyramid works beautifully for distributing information over a telegraph wire, it does not work so well with a little subset of your audience known as humans.
Here’s a quick survey:
- The inverted pyramid was invented during the Civil War — for use on the telegraph wire. Does this 150-year-old hierarchical blurtation of facts really make the most sense for your contemporary blog posts, webpages and online content?
- The pyramid does “not work very well with readers,” according to the Ways With Words study. It reduced readership, understanding and engagement, among other things.
- Feature-style stories outperform traditional news stories in readership, satisfaction and image, according to the Impact study. “There is strong evidence that an increase in the [number] of feature-style stories has wide-ranging benefits,” write the researchers.
- The Associated Press is backing away from the inverted pyramid. The godfather of the pyramid is embracing the feature and foregoing its classic Joe Friday “just the facts, ma’am” style. The feature delivers more context — and attention, AP leaders say.
- Feature stories get shared more often, according to the Reuters Institute. While news stories make up the bulk of the content on three European news sites, most of the most-shared stories are features.
- Features increased reading by 520%, readers by 300% in an A/B test by Groove HQ. Simply adding an anecdotal lead caused nearly three times as many people to scroll to the bottom of the post and increased time on page by more than five times.
- The inverted pyramid is ‘the worst form ever invented for explaining something to another person in words,” according to a Poynter Institute scholar. That’s because it’s so hard to understand and remember.
- The inverted pyramid is the “anti-story,” akin to starting Cinderella with the wedding scene. “It tells the story backward and is at odds with the storytelling tradition,” experts say.
Don’t count on the pyramid.
So start seeing the inverted pyramid as one approach, not the approach.
“The inverted pyramid is one more tool in my toolbox, right for some jobs but by no means all,” writes Todd McAdam, public affairs reporter at the Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New Hampshire). “In particular, it’s a hammer. I use it when I need nothing more to get the news out than brute force and ignorance. Not subtle, not pretty, not very flexible, but very useful in the right circumstance.”
Which, for corporate communicators, is not very often.