The inverted pyramid is journalistic
style most often used in hard news
pieces. It involves placing the most important facts in the first few paragraphs (or even lines where possible) of a news story
. The pyramid is so named because the foundation
of the news story is at the top, and more "decorative" or elaborative
details come later on. It's an inverted
pyramid because the flat base
(with the more important information) is at the top and declines in width
(relevant but less essential information) at the bottom. The width of the pyramid refers to the importance of the information, not to the level or amount of language used to convey it.
The purpose of the inverted pyramid style is twofold. Firstly, newspaper readers generally don't have a lot of time on their hands. If an article fails to catch their interest after the first few paragraphs, they might give up. An article written in the inverted pyramid style ensures that they will still take something from it even if they don't read the whole thing. Secondly, newspapers are often forced to edit stories for length or for space. Use of the inverted pyramid style enables editors to remove paragraphs from the bottom of the article without compromising the most important information. This was also an issue in the past when writers had to telegraph or telephone stories to publications. In the event that the transmission was cut off, the publication would still receive the most important part of the piece (Courtesy of Timeshredder, thanks!). Many editors and instructors make use of the "cut-off" test, which is designed to test how well a journalist made use of the inverted pyramid style. This is done by removing paragraphs from the end of a piece in order to determine how many secondary paragraphs can be omitted before the story stops making sense.
This style is most typical of newspaper hard news. Soft news stories, such as those that appear in magazines, or newspaper stories that deal with less serious content, generally do not follow this style. This is because readers generally have more time to read these articles and so they don't have to jump right to the point.
The following is an example of inverted pyramid style from the Toronto Star.
"The first images NASA's Spirit rover sent from Mars showed a landscape scattered with small rocks that brought cheers from scientists when they caught sight of the black-and-white photos."
This is the lead. It contains the essence of the article and tells readers why they should be interested in it.
"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration began receiving the first of an estimated 60 to 80 images from Spirit's cameras late yesterday, just three hours after the robot made an apparently flawless landing on Mars."
This is still essential information and it follows the lead almost immediately. As the article progresses, it goes on to describe more information about the Rover project and gives background information about past expeditions to Mars.
The article concludes with information that is still relevant but not essential to the actual article:
"NASA intends to send more probes to Mars at regular 26-month intervals, or each time the Earth laps the Red Planet as they travel around the sun."
Spirit's landing followed another important American space mission. On Friday, a NASA spacecraft made a close flyby of a distant comet to scoop up less than a thimbleful of dust that could shed light on how the solar system was formed."
A similar style is the champagne glass style. It's similar to the inverted pyramid but has a "punchline" at the end that is still essential to the piece. The article may still have other secondary paragraphs removed, but the punchline has to remain there. (Courtesy of SharQ - thanks!).
Despite its widespread use in the world of print journalism, the inverted pyramid style is generally not used in broadcast journalism. Broadcast news stories have "endings" that can't afford to be cut from the broadcast.