“Inverted pyramid” is still a functional guideline for web writing

I said in other posts that the time-tested “old” journalism is still basis for good digital journalism, and here’s one more reason for that argument: the conventional “inverted pyramid” news writing style works especially well to facilitate reading of long-form writings on the web.

Web writing requires a style that quickly presents main ideas

Many people are accustomed to an essay style writing for both print and web: the article begins with an intro, then arguments/expansion, and finally conclusion/highlights. Journalists, on the other hand, are trained to write the other way around: a news article begins with the most important information and ends with the least important information.

A defining characteristic of the reading habits of online audiences is “impatience” – when it comes to long-form writing on a web page, rather than reading from start to finish, people want to quickly get the idea or gist. When reading on computer, you won’t like the idea of reading a long piece till the final paragraphs only to find you just wasted a good amount of time on something that is of little use or interest to you.

So, the news writing style, something we call “inverted pyramid” style, seems to be a good fit for online readers: it begins with the conclusion/highlights, and a reader can decide if this is something that interests him/her, and if he/she wants to continue reading.

How to incorporate “inverted pyramid” in web writing

I want to use a blog post as a demonstration; this post is titled “College student newspapers are going “digital first”: Some observation and thoughts.” In addition to following the other web writing tips I discussed, here’s what I did to incorporate an “inverted pyramid” style:

The article itself begins with a brief intro:

If you are involved in college or high school student newspapers, you may want to know how some schools are pioneering a “digital first” strategy, as well as the new philosophy and workflow that come with the new strategy. The three prongs of “going digital” are print, web and mobile – you’ll need all three formats to make for a successful “digital first” strategy.

The article then breaks into three sections, and each section has an informational subhead, as well as an intro. A section intro helps readers decide if they want to read this section – even when a reader is interested in the article after reading the article intro and browsing the subheads, he or she may still be less interested in specific sections or subtopics, so having section intros serves to further facilitate their reading.

Why student newspapers need to go “digital first”

Traditionally, student newspapers serve two purposes: inform the campus population and train future journalists – they both are being disrupted by the changing technology and consumer tastes.


College newspapers are starting to go “digital first”

In the past year alone, several college newspapers switched to “digital first.” A common practice is to expand web and mobile content offerings, reduce print schedule, and refocus the print contents.


Digital first: A new philosophy and a new workflow

Let’s be clear: “going digital” doesn’t mean copying and pasting print contents to an accompanying website, and it doesn’t mean “web first” or “web only.” With a “digital first” strategy, multimedia (digital) contents are created then distributed via appropriate platforms, i.e., print, web and/or mobile. You’ll need all three platforms to make for a successful digital strategy.


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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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