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How Can An Inverted Pyramid Help You Create Engaging Copy?
As much as many copywriters probably want to distance themselves from the unregulated voicemail-hacking, camp-on-a-celebrities-doorstep free-for-all that is journalism, it’s an inescapable fact that the two are intrinsically tied together.
However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, the relationship between copywriting and journalism is one that should be cherished. In Google’s forced utopia of quality content, having a few tools of the journalism trade in your armory can give you a competitive edge when it comes to writing copy that Matt Cutts would enjoy reading in his ivory tower at the Googleplex.
I’m one of many copywriters who made the leap from journalism and although I was never fully inducted into the cigar-smoke and whiskey haze of the newsroom, I did learn quite a few techniques that I feel serve me well on a regular basis in my role as an entirely wholesome copywriter.
In this post, I’m going to focus on a technique that most journalism students learn in their first week of study (right before the module on ‘how to develop a deep-rooted cynicism and contempt for society’ and ‘voicemail technology 101’); the inverted pyramid.
The inverted pyramid is essentially the way all journalists are taught to lay out a news story, particularly if you are writing a newspaper story. It’s a beautifully simplistic method of taking facts and condensing them into something concise and interesting, as well as dictating just how much time and space you should be dedicating to each section of your copy.
At the top of the pyramid lies ‘most newsworthy information’, which is basically the most important part of the story dependent on the angle or hook for your piece. Following that comes other important details about the story, relevant background information and for features, a conclusion.
So how can we use the pyramid, which is routinely reliable for producing objective hard news stories, to produce engaging and persuasive content? It’s quite easy really…
Most Newsworthy Information
One of the long-established rules of the internet, beyond ‘cats are funny’ and ‘any expression of opinion must be met with a torrent of abuse’, is that people are lazy. Give the average internet user 500 words of content and they’ll read the first 100 words and maybe post a snarky comment based on those words.
That’s why it’s important to give them the essentials straight away. If you’re writing site copy, make sure that the USP for the services that site provides are in the first sentence – if there’s no USP, a solid reason to choose them over their competitors. For blog posts (particularly if you’re newsjacking), make sure that the most eye-catching or interesting piece of information is front and centre, not buried four paragraphs down.
You’ve captured your reader; now you’ve got to keep them. The important details are the supporting argument for the most noteworthy information you’re trying to convey. For site copy, these details can benefit from being laid out in punchy bullet points so that a reader can take in as much information as possible without having to read lengthy paragraphs.
In a blog post, the important details will usually be ‘the meat’ of your post – the argument or lesson you’re trying to teach readers. If you’re newsjacking, it’ll be a justification of just how ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘kitchen flooring’ are related (it’s much easier to do the dance on linoleum, if you weren’t already aware).
Background Info: This is the ‘previously on…’ part of a news story, and is useful for adding a bit of context to copy. This should fit in pretty naturally with a blog post. For on-site copy, this is a good time to jettison in a bit of a company info or history to support the rest of your extremely persuasive copy.
Additional Info/Call To Action
The problem with the inverted pyramid model is that hard news stories tend to go out with a fizzle rather than a bang. The additional info part of a story tends to be a ‘if you’ve been affected by these issues…’ sort of deal or even worse, where all the boring stuff is dumped.
However, as you’re involved in online marketing, this is probably going to be the most important part of your copy. This is your chance to capture your engaged reader, entice them into using your services and giving them a method through which to engage. A strong call to action is essential.
Oh, hang on…one last thing…
THE most important part of any copy, sod’s law dictates that the headline is also the hardest. Coming up with a killer headline is extremely difficult and there’s no particular formula – although many have had a good old go at coming up with one. Copyblogger, through hundreds of articles, have probably come the closest to cracking it so it’s well worth taking a look.