Inverted Pyramid


A method of information presentation in which information is presented in descending order of importance.

The inverted pyramid refers to a method of information presentation in which critical information is presented first, and then additional elaborative information is presented in descending order of importance. In the pyramid metaphor, the broad base of the pyramid represents the least important information, while the tip of the pyramid represents the most important information. For example, in traditional scientific writing, a historical foundation (tip of the pyramid) is presented first, followed by arguments and evidence, and then a conclusion (base of the pyramid). To invert the pyramid is to present the important information first, and the background information last. The inverted pyramid has been a standard in journalism for over one hundred years, and has found wide use in instructional design, technical writing, and Internet publishing. id="footnote129a"> class="nounder totri-footnote" href="">1

The inverted pyramid consists of a lead (critical information) and a body (elaborative information). The lead is a terse summary of the “what,” “where,” “when,” “who,” “why,” and “how” of the information. The body consists of subsequent paragraphs or chunks of information that elaborate facts and details in descending order of importance. It is increasingly common in Internet publishing to present only the lead, and make the body available upon request (e.g., with a “more...” link).

The inverted pyramid offers a number of benefits over traditional methods of information presentation: it conveys the key aspects of the information quickly; it establishes a context in which to interpret subsequent facts; initial chunks of information are more likely to be remembered than later chunks of information; it permits efficient searching and scanning of information; and information can be easily edited for length, knowing that the least important information will always be at the end. The efficiency of the inverted pyramid is also its limiting factor. While it provides a succinct, information-dense method of information presentation, the inverted pyramid does not allow the flexibility of building suspense or creating a surprise ending, so is often perceived as uninteresting and boring.

Use the inverted pyramid when presentation efficiency is important. Develop leads that present a concise overview of the information, followed by short chunks of information of decreasing importance. If interestingness is important and has been compromised, include multiple media, interesting layouts, and interactivity to complement the information and actively engage audiences. When it is not possible to use the inverted pyramid method (e.g., in standard scientific writing), consider a compromise solution based on the principle by providing an executive summary at the beginning to present the key findings.

See also Advance Organizer, Form Follows Function, Ockham’s Razor, Progressive Disclosure, and Serial Position Effects.

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This report of President Lincoln’s assassination established the inverted pyramid style of writing. Its economy of style, a stark contrast to the lavish prose of the day, was developed for efficient communication by telegraph.