Don’t Bury the Lead When You Write! [Content Strategy]

addthis-inverted-pyramid-blogging-writing

One of the biggest things you can do to improve how you write on the Web is to not bury the lead. Don’t force people to read two or three paragraphs in to understand what your point is. Instead, put the point of your post right up at the top. In journalism school, they teach new journalists this as a concept called the “Inverted” or “Upside Down Pyramid,” a good guideline to show you the best way to write for the Web.

Why is burying the lead so bad? Well, people don’t carefully read articles online. You won’t have a visitor’s attention for very long. If you put the point of the article in the middle of the fourth paragraph, you’ll miss out on an opportunity to keep them engaged on your site.

Famed Web usability researcher Jakob Nielsen observed as far back as 1997 that people don’t read articles. They scan articles. In a study they did at the time, they found that “79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across.” Seventeen years later, with the onset of social media, I can only imagine that number has gone up. This reinforces the fact that you want to make it as easy for your readers as possible to get the point of what you’re writing.

The first paragraph is where you explain why you’re asking for someone’s attention, and the value you’re going to provide to give them some of that initial payoff. If all your visitors read was the first paragraph, they should feel like they have a good handle on what’s being talked about. Put the general background and supporting information further down in the article.

People are creating more content, faster than ever before. When you publish content, you’re competing for attention with thousands of other people that would love that attention. So you need to be doing everything you can to help keep that attention. Front loading the article helps to lessen the chance that you’ll lose the reader and pique their interest to read on.

  • your leder

    Not to be a prescriptivist, but the expression is “bury the lede” not “bury the lead”. The journalism profession specifically invented the alternate spelling in order to make it obvious that you’re talking the leading paragraph, as opposed to other meanings of lead. The more you know!

  • Thanks!

  • you reder

    Thanks for a great article and for not confusing me, or your occasional other non-journalist readers, with the non-word “lede”.

  • Jack

    This could be a vital tip in the content strategy to focus on the business lead of a firm…

    The content plays a vital role in the business promo.Of course the lead content could attract the readers or the viewers and it is an added key to place the lead contents in the supporting contents to emphasize the importance…

    jack

    bizbilla b2b

  • Unfortunately, by presenting the sum of the article in the first 2 paragraphs, we as journalist are enabling the 1-10 second scan. Where’s the hook, what’s is your goal in writing the article, and do you care about readership retention?

  • The goal of the article was to educate my users to this problem. While i’d love to string people along and get them to read longer by burying the nugget down further, I’m realistic and realize that I’m not John Grisham or House of Cards and that in a world with unlimited options that they’ll just bounce to the next thing.

  • Understood Justin. Your article presented several useful tips and factoids. Much thanks, and keep writing.

  • Justine Anne Brophy

    I really enjoyed this post.It is very true that people lose attention very quickly. I can talk for myself here, I scan articles and mainly focus on the first line of each paragraph. I enjoy short, catchy blogs rather than long ended articles. Thank you for this.

  • Sure thing, Justine. Using other methods like bulleted or numbered lists, sub-heads, etc., also help make things more scannable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!