Inverted pyramid

The inverted pyramid starts with what the user most needs to know. Order the rest of the page from most to least important information.

Use the inverted pyramid for most content

The basic structure of the inverted pyramid is:

  • a heading
  • details in order, from the most to the least important.

The most important idea comes first or ‘above the fold’. This is the top part of a screen or a newspaper, where people can see the main idea at a glance.

This structure helps users scan content on any device. It also helps optimise the page for search engines.

Example

The image is an inverted pyramid in the shape of a triangle pointing downwards. The widest part at the top represents the most important information. The tapering to lower portion shows the less important information follows the most important information.
An inverted pyramid is a structure for a piece of content: important detail comes first

Start with what the user most needs to know

To structure your content as an inverted pyramid:

  • Write the main idea in as few words as possible. It can be a summary, a conclusion or recommendation, or the action someone needs to take.
  • Describe the main ideas in headings
  • Under each of the top-level headings, group the content under subheadings. This helps people find supporting information.
  • Write supporting paragraphs.
  • Organise the information in order of importance.

For long-form content, use a summary or a list of recommendations in the preliminary pages. This helps people read the main information with ease.

Design pages based on how the user scans

People start at the top of a page and decide within seconds whether to go past the initial view.

The headline and the first few lines provide the main reason for staying (or leaving). As people read through the content, they might also scan pictures or other headings, but they could also stop reading at any time.

The inverted pyramid works because people pay more attention when they first see the content. Their interest tends to wane in the middle, and sometimes they never reach the end. Journalists know that’s how readers behave and structure content accordingly.

To structure a paragraph using the inverted pyramid, start with a topic sentence. Use the rest of the paragraph to explain the topic sentence.

Release notes

The digital edition canvasses different types of structure. It promotes the use of the inverted pyramid for digital content.

The sixth edition and the Content Guide were silent on the inverted pyramid.

About this page

References

Avieson J (1980) Applied journalism in Australia, Deakin University, Geelong.

Brech J (18 July 2013) ‘Inverted pyramid style’, Web Wise Wording, accessed 30 May 2020.

Chandler D and Munday R (2020) ‘Inverted pyramid’, A dictionary of media and communication, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press.

Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019) Report writing, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.

Fessenden T (15 April 2018) ‘Scrolling and attention’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.

Schade A (1 February 2015) ‘The fold manifesto: why the page fold still matters’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.

Schade A (11 February 2018) ‘Inverted pyramid: writing for comprehension’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.

This page was updated Thursday 4 March 2021.

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