Tip of the Iceberg
Most people are familiar with the “inverted pyramid” style of writing newspaper articles or press releases. The most important facts or “5 Ws”―Who? What? When? Where? Why?―at the beginning and then the rest of the details and background information later on.
It’s a time-honored formula that seems perfectly suited for our age of short “news bites” and even shorter attention spans. Unfortunately, while it gets key information delivered quickly, it doesn’t always make for compelling reading. Not only the devil, but the ability to grab the reader’s attention―may be in the details.
There’s an alternate writing path we can call the “iceberg” approach, where the mass of the story lies below the surface, but the most impactful point is right on top. The tip of the iceberg is the most interesting idea, what intrigues the reader enough to stay with you. Before loading down the article or release with details, start with the most compelling point you have to make.
Let’s say that your company has held an open house and invited local students to see how magazines are printed. If you follow the 5 Ws approach, your lead would probably be something like, “ABC Printing of AnyTown hosted the sixth grade class from Washington School at an open house at its First Street plant on January 10.” OK. Who, what, where, when are covered. (Why usually comes later, even in the inverted pyramid scheme.)
The parents and school staff will probably read on, but few others will. You might get more readers if you started it this way: “AnyTown sixth-graders were amazed to see how a magazine can be printed in under an hour during their visit to ABC Printing on January 10.” The key point wasn’t the open house; it what the students learned at the open house, and leading with it helps you grab the attention of readers who may not care about a class trip, but do wonder how magazines can be printed in less than an hour.
Back to the details in sentence two: “Thirty youngsters from Washington School watched ABC’s staff use high-tech equipment to transform a digital file into a ready-to-read publication at an open house hosted by the company at its First Street plant.”
Then flesh it out with a quote or two: “We didn‘t believe Mr. Jones [ABC’s president] when he showed us the computer screen and said we’d be holding the magazine before we left,” said student Tom Smith, “but we all got a copy at lunch to take home. It was pretty cool.” “We love to see the reaction of kids when they see all the technology that goes into today’s printing, and we hope it leads them to consider a career in our high-tech industry,” added Jones.
Same story. Same facts. Different degree of reader interest and involvement―and more information about the kind of company ABC Printing is: one that has advanced capabilities, is part of a modern industry, and wants to help build the future of its community.
The next time you sit down to write about your company, whether for an internal newsletter or local paper, look for the tip of the iceberg and lead with it.