The Inverted Pyramid

The Inverted Pyramid framework is the most conventional principle, which is followed for professional writing. Many people have been critical about it, but it has survived for more than a century. As per this principle, the most important point or essential element of an article should be placed at the top. In other words, the facts should be sequenced in descending order of importance. This might seem a bit blunt, but it is most effective.

Advantages

  • The readers can judge quickly whether they want to read the entire article or not.
  • Even if the readers decide to stop reading at any particular point, they have already grasped the main point of your article.
  • The first few sentences provide a quick overview of the entire article.
  • It is of great advantage to editors. In case an article exceeds its specified space, they can easily trim the content from the bottom instead of starting from the first and changing the entire structure.
  • It captures and retains the readers’ interest. If the beginning is not captivating, readers skim for other alternatives.
  • Creating headlines becomes easier and faster through it.
  • It improves the creative and organizational capability of the writer.

PARAGRAPHING

Paragraphing helps in dividing the material into separate interlinked units, which the readers readily cope with and assimilate into their understanding. The main aim of paragraphs and sections is to divide and prioritise the information into meaningful chunks. This, in turn, helps to highlight the points and issues, encouraging a sense of sequence and development. Therefore, for researcher/writer, paragraphing offers a powerful tool for articulating and critiquing their ideas. While, for a communicator, it helps in keeping their reader focused on the topic and line of logic.

Magazine article paragraphs are usually short, comprising two or three sentences only. Even one-sentence paragraphs are acceptable in articles, as long as they do not run in succession. Like short sentences, short paragraphs have a more intense effect than the longer ones as they concentrate meaning into a few words, which stand out from the rest of the text. For this reason, one-sentence paragraphs in magazine articles are often placed at strategic places to provide a striking effect.

In most cases, magazines are read in leisure time. Writers, therefore, realise that readers will not likely invest their time and attention required to absorb a complex document. Accordingly, the writer presents the information succinctly and directly without elaboration and in-depth analysis. Besides, the tone should have a conversational impact rather than conceptual density. Moreover, magazine articles also compete for attention. As opposed to a formally commissioned report, which assumes that the reader has a vested interest in reading it closely, a magazine article often needs to capture the reader’s attention. In this situation, having long paragraphs would be daunting, as well as discouraging. Hence, the articles should be preferably short, precise and to the point.

Layout Considerations And Page Design

Different magazines have different layout styles, which determine the content choices. This means that a magazine will not change its layout and the space allotted to each article type, to accommodate a particular article. The article would be edited and formatted in the magazines standard manner.

Main layout considerations include:

  • Space: Each article has a word limit to accommodate it in the space allotted in the magazines layout.
  • Paragraph length: Magazine articles have shorter paragraphs compared to reports and essays.
  • Visuals: Visuals are often used to add more clarity to the article and are designed considering the target audiences needs and expectations.
  • Sections and headings: Sections are designed according to the space allotted for an article. Crossheads are used as a form of signposting to direct readers attention.

Page design is divided into four aspects:

  • Proximity: This refers to the spatial layout that displays related objects. For example, you be placed close to each other and to the relevant text.
  • Alignment: This refers to balancing the positions of horizontal and vertical elements on a page in relation to each other. For example, you can align the objects on the left with the left edge of the page and the objects on the right with the right edge of the page.
  • Repetition: This refers to the repetition of elements that bind different sections together. Bullet points, colors, and typefaces can be repeated for a visual impact and to help readers recognize and scan through pages easily and quickly.
  • Contrast: This is the opposite of repetition. It refers to putting together different elements and creating a visual impression. The use of contrasting elements acts as an information hierarchy. It introduces an element of surprise and indicates that the article has depth and variety. It can be used in colors, fonts and direction. To create an effective and impressive publication, you need to balance repetition and contrast.

Journalists use different terminologies to talk about the layout of articles and pages:

  • Title: This is used for all articles except new stories; headline is used for news stories. Titles can be creative and cryptic; headlines are not: they are structured in sentence form, present tense. For example, a title can be Swept Away; a headline can be Largest Tsunami Ever Recorded Hits Country.
  • Pullquote: It refers to using text of an article as a highlighting device “ the pullquotes from an article should be able to tell a story (i.e., summarize the main points of the article).
  • Subhead: It refers to the text that comes below the title and is used to give more information on the articles topic. Subheads are useful when the title is too enigmatic and needs explanation.
  • Crosshead: It is the journalistic term for heading.
  • Caption: It is the text that accompanies a visual.

Business and Technology Journalism

Types of Articles

Feature Articles

Features are an elaboration of topics that were published in newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, television broadcasts and other mass media. They focus on particular people, places and events. They cover topics the in-depth, explaining the most interesting and important elements of an event. Feature writers have the freedom and time to fill in details of the circumstances and atmosphere.

News Stories

News stories focus on local, regional, national, and international events of importance. For describing the facts, they follow the 5Ws and 1H approach. They should be unbiased and accurate. New articles should contain pertinent information arranged in an inverted pyramid style. To apply the concept to news, the most important details are considered as the widest layer of the pyramid, its base. The least important details are placed at the top. People just skim through the news, so the most important facts and details should be placed at the beginning.

Editorials

Editorials are opinion articles. They comment on a certain issue, topic, subject matter or news event. They build on an argument and try to sway the readers to think the same way as they do. Editorials are meant to influence public opinion and sometimes cause people to take action on a particular issue.

Opinions

Opinion articles provide a personal, often speculative, viewpoint or hypothesis on a topic of current interest. They may be regarding recent publications or discuss any current hot issues from the author’s point of view.

Reviews

Review articles are critical reviews of a topical and significant area of research. They should aim to provide an in-depth discussion of the current progress and problems, and should not consist of an account of every paper on that topic. They do not contain any original research. They aim to compare their analysis with others in the same field, showing its advantages and disadvantages.

Interviews

These articles are in a questionnaire form. They focus on the contribution of an individual to a particular topic.

Transitional Words, Phrases and Sentences

Transitional words, phrases and sentences regulate the flow of paragraphs and sections. Besides, transitional sentences, as well as, in longer documents, transitional paragraphs can be used between one section and another.

Two common forms of transition are described below.

1)  Using a short sentence to state briefly your intended meaning in the next paragraph. For example, you might say, So far we have been discussing unemployment. Now we consider inflation. This could occur at the end of one paragraph or at the beginning of the next, depending on the paragraphs length and its desired effect. However, the new paragraph would begin more intensely, if its topic had already been introduced in the previous paragraph.

2)  Repeating a keyword or phrase, in order to echo the point made in a previous paragraph. In fact, synonyms can also be used for this purpose. For example, observe the following extract, from an article on evolution, for how this technique has been used. Besides, I have italicized the transitional sentences and the cohesive devices in the following paragraph:

Understanding the shape of the tree of life and the details of its branches are more than a quaint sideline of biology, even though the science of this quest, known as systematic, has come to be regarded by many biologists as dowdy and old fashioned, little more than stamp collecting. But, such an understanding is probably the best foundation for a larger appreciation of life, including evolution, ecology and behaviour. As Colin Patterson, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum of London, said: To retrieve the history of life, to reconstruct the evolutionary tree, is still the aim of evolutionary biology. Getting it right is therefore important.

COHESION

Cohesion words or phrases define the association between one sentence and the next. These words or phrases link a sentence with its pervious or next sentence, thus, helping readers to relate the sentences and the authors intended meaning. The writer can use but, however, in spite of, or some other similar linking word or phrase; however, one should take care of correct grammatical structure.

Let us take the examples of some cohesion words and the relationship they express.

  • Enumerative cohesion words/phrases introduces the order in which points will be made. Examples: first, second; one, two; a, b; next, then, subsequently, finally, in the end
  • Additive words reinforce or confirm what was said. Examples: again, then again, also, moreover, furthermore, in addition, what is more

These words also highlight similarity. Examples: equally, likewise, similarly, correspondingly, in the same way

  • Explanatory words introduce examples. Examples: for example, for instance
  • Illustrative words note alternatives. Examples: alternatively, or again, or rather, but then, on the other hand

Other cohesion words include synonyms, referential pronouns, parallel structure, etc.

Synonyms:

These are words with closely related meanings and help in addressing excessive repetition. If you used approach in one sentence and want to repeat the same idea, then you can use its synonym method in the next sentence. Similarly, for skill, you can use ability, and so no.

However, one should make sure not to overuse them as its excessive usage can make your document confusing and unclear.

Referential pronouns:

If two sentences begin with the same subject, then you can use a personal or referential pronoun in the second sentence instead of the word itself (I, he, she, it, we, they, this, that, these). However, if the use of a pronoun makes the sentence confusing, then you should repeat the noun.

Parallel structures:

Parallelism refers to similar grammatical structures of headings and sentences used within a paragraph, and it adds clarity to your paragraph.

Not parallel: These books are not primarily for reading, but they are used for reference.

Parallel: These books are not primarily for reading but for reference.

Not parallel: Not only is he conscientious worker, but also he is very competent.

Parallel: Not only is he conscientious but also competent.

Parallelism is also important in instructions.

A. Setting up the printer, maintenance, and what to do if something goes wrong are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

B. Setting up the printer, maintaining it and troubleshooting are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

Sentences and Style

Tips for Choosing Style

Include Variety

“Sentence variety is a means by which the writer helps the reader to understand which ideas are most important, which ideas support or explain other ideas, etc. Variety of sentence structures is also a part of style and voice.” (Douglas E. Grudzina and Mary C. Beardsley)

Adding variety to sentences gives it life and rhythm. Sentences with the same structure and length become boring for readers. Varying sentence style and structure also reduces repetition and adds emphasis wherever necessary. Long sentences are useful when incorporating large amount of information; short sentences help in maximizing the essential points. To enliven the paragraphs, the sentences should be of varying lengths. This also helps in creating effective emphasis. If many sentences start with the same word (The, It, This, or I), it becomes tedious for readers. Therefore, changing the opening words and phrases can be refreshing. Different beginnings help alter not only the structure but also the emphasis of the sentence. Also, one change often leads another, thus creating an abundance of sentence variety.

Use Subordination Carefully

Subordination is a grammatical strategy, which combines two ideas of a sentence, one being more important than the other. The less important idea is subordinate to the more important idea. The data chosen for subordination depends upon the meaning you want to deliver. The main idea should be expressed in an independent clause, and subordinate ideas should be expressed in subordinate clauses. Subordination enhances the writing style.

Ex:      As the sky turned dark gray, the wind died down. [Focus is on wind].

As the wind died down, the sky turned dark gray. [Focus is on sky].

When, Whenever, After, Until, Before, After, Where, Wherever, Because, Since, So that, If, Unless, If only, Although, and Even though are all effective subordinators.

Proper Use of First and Second Person Pronouns

Usage of first (I, my, me, mine, we, us, our, ours) and second (You, your, yours) person pronouns is important in establishing a link between the writer and the reader. Unless giving an opinion, one should generally write in Third person. Try to keep first and second person pronouns such as “I”, “We”, and “You” out of your writing as much as possible.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SENTENCES

Sentences are generally classified into 4 different categories. They are as follows.

1. Simple sentences: These types of sentences contain only one main clause.

E.g., The document recommended corrections.

2. Compound sentences: These types of sentences contain two or more main clauses connected with conjunctions.

E.g., The document recommended corrections, and established time limit.

3. Complex sentences: These types of sentences contain one main clause and one or more subordinate clauses (clauses that would be fragments if disconnected from the main clause).

E.g.,

a) The document, which will form the basis of our decision, recommended corrections.

b) The document recommended corrections because these are the only way to solve the problem.

4. Compound-complex sentences: These types of sentences contain two or more main clauses and one or more subordinate clauses.

E.g., The document recommended corrections and established time limit, because that is the only way to solve the problem.

In this way, it can be noted that the different types of sentences are more about the prioritisation of information than about length. In fact, a simple sentence can be much longer than a complex one.

E.g.,

Complex sentence: The key that opens the door is small.

Simple sentence: Early in the morning, in the dusky summer sunlight, the tall, blond man and his dog came out of the building from the back door, slowly and surreptitiously.

SENTENCES AND PHRASES

The first step to develop your writing style is to focus on sentences and phrases. The more you practice with different sentences and phrases, the more you improve and enhance your writing style.

Let us again understand the grammatical terminologies of a sentence. A sentence can be briefly defined as a group of words that consists of a subject (i.e., someone or something that does an action) and a verb (the action). The least group of words is called a clause. Some sentences may also contain an object (the thing or person acted upon).

The report recommended changes.
Subject Verb Object

If the word group has no subject or no verb, but its still makes some basic sense, then it is a phrase. It is a fragment and not a complete sentence, and is often used to create colorful and imagistic effects. These can be used in creative writing, but try to avoid using them in formal or specialist styles.

 

Phrase: While crossing the river.

Sentence: While crossing the river, he slipped on the wet stepping stones.

Make sure you consider the following qualities while writing complete sentences:

1. A verb that shows time: Include something that happens or is described in the past, present, or future. If the group of words has no verb, then it is a fragment. Even if it contains a verb but no tense, it fails to qualify as a complete sentence. Remember, gerunds (-ing) and infinitives (-to do) are not tensed verbs and can be used as nouns or participles.

Fragment: The committee considering the proposal.

Sentence: The committee considered the proposal.

Sentence: The committee considers the proposal.

Sentence: The committee will consider the proposal.

2. The absence of a subordinating word: Your group of words fails to be a complete sentence if any one of the following words or phrases is placed in front of it:

after if until
although in case when
as provided that whenever
as if since whereas
as though so that whether
because that which
before unless while

Consider the following example:

While common law has long implied that there is a requirement for mutual respect and fair dealings in the employment relationship.

 

The while at the beginning of the sentence implies that there is a second part to this sentence, which contrasts with the information given in the first. Without this second part, the sentence is not complete. To correct this problem, either put a comma after relationship and add another clause, or take away while.

Aesthetics of Style

The manner in which a writer puts forth a particular thought or idea is a very important aspect of professional writing. You should choose the most effective way to communicate that idea. This can be achieved best by knowing your audience and knowing what style would appeal most to them. Your writing should strike the right chord with your readers.

Having knowledge about your audience helps you to determine the choice of language; whether to use formal, impersonal, positive, writer-focused, reader-focused, conversational, active, or passive language. Your writing style has an impact on the reader’s ability to understand your writing; it does not affect the actual content. When writers write for themselves or some acquaintance, they frequently use the pronouns I and you. This is commonly found in memos, personal letters, diaries, or in stories written by students. The target audiences are they themselves, teachers, friends, and family. Personal writing calls for a language style that expresses emotion, feelings, or opinions. In impersonal writing, the audience is distant and unknown. The writers are not present in the text, nor do they acknowledge the reader. There is no expression of personal feelings, no usage of personal pronouns, and the choice of vocabulary, and the use of passive voice lends a sense of formality to their writing.

Examples:

  • You are creating a brochure about your company. You need to create different versions of the same brochure to appeal to different target audiences, such as, shareholders, customers, retailers, employees, or business associates.
  • You are writing an article or book for school students. It will be inappropriate if you use very high and polished jargon. They will just not understand it.
  • You are writing a business letter. You cannot use an informal and conversational tone in it.

You are writing a fiction. The style should be informal and realistic. The reader should be able to identify themselves with the characters and situations.