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"Writing for Newspapers"

by Merry Bruns
CASC Director

Newspaper writing is academic writing turned on its head.

  • Your conclusion comes first.

  • The rest of the story comes next, in order of importance.

It's called inverted pyramid style, and it's the basis of all journalistic writing.

Pick up a paper - read an article - you'll see the most important facts comes in the first paragraph, or first sentence. This is called the lead sentence-and its meant to draw you, the reader, into the story, and make you want to read more.

The subsequent information comes in descending order of importance - from the top down. Historically, this was done so a newspaper editor could literally cut a story to fit the page - he knew he could cut from the bottom up, without losing the most important part of the story.

This is great for newspapers - but anthropologists aren't taught to write like that. Our stories are often immensely complex, with multiple ramifications, which make it impossible to state the main facts simply.

Or is it impossible?

Try this:

Think about what you want to say in your story.

Then say it out loud. Tell it to an audience verbally.

And be as succinct as you can in the telling.

You'll find that what you say is much simpler, and much more to the point, when you speak it out loud, than when you try to write it.

Thinking about your story as an inverted pyramid can help focus what your story's all about, and makes it readable for a general audience.

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Copyright 1998.CASC.
Merry P. Bruns
Washington DC
All Rights Reserved.
Jan.1998