How to write upside down
No, this is not a post about how to write while doing yoga. But if you train yourself – and others – to write like this, we might all have more time for yoga.
The best business writing is logical and to the point, much like a well written news piece. Journalists and media hacks are trained to write for economy. They use the inverted pyramid to structure that puts the most important information first and expands the story from there. It works because their stories are at the mercy of editors who, in theory, should be able to cut words from the bottom up without significantly changing how well a story can be understood.
The temptation for lots of business writers is to approach their writing like a narrative. Set the scene, introduce characters, build up the story and keep us guessing until the end. Here’s what that looks like in a business report:
– Key stakeholders
– Key recommendations
– Action plans
Does that structure look familiar?
What works for novelists falls flat in a business context. If you write like this, your readers will skip through most of your report to get to the meaty bits – what you’re asking them to do and how much it’s going to cost.
How to use the inverted pyramid for business writing
I apply these principles when writing a long business document (e.g anything longer than 2-3 pages):
- Start with the assumption that your readers are time poor and are likely to skim read what you’ve written. Not because it’s boring or bad, but because they’re busy and that’s how we read everything these days – a quick skim to see if it’s relevant before we ditch and move on.
- Make an effort to shuffle the most important information to the top. A simple way to do this is to include an executive summary or bring the key recommendations to the front page.
- Use lots of meaningful headings to give you reader signposts to important sections of the document.
- Accept that people will skim read your work, and write in a way that helps them grasp the most important points quickly and easily, and you’re half way there. Content thinks it’s king, but only if you can get people to read it.
It works with editing too
Even if you struggle to write this way, run the inverted pyramid test over your work at editing stage and see if you can bring your main points further up. You can use this technique for any piece of business writing. Try it next time you need to write an important email and see if you get a faster response.