Why Your Writing Structure Counts

By: Bob Lory

Many forms of poetry have very strict structures. Some types of fiction do as well--writers of romance novels go outside their publisher's "guidelines" at their peril.

Non-fiction also has a number of formats.

Most news releases, for example, are written in "AP style." This is not all the stuff in their well-known and widely-used style guide, but a general format in which the key facts are summarized in the first--or lead--paragraph with the rest of the story adding details, usually in descending order of importance. This is also called the "inverted pyramid" style, and there are two versions of how it came to be the basic news report format.

The first has to do with the way pages were made up in days of yore. If a page form had all its lead type in its columns and, just before press time, a new story or advertisement had to be placed on that page, the editor easily could pull out the bottom paragraphs of one or two news stories so this revenue producer would fit. If the stories were written in AP style, the important stuff remained. (This may be the origin of "getting the lead out.")

The second goes back to the second half of the 1800s, when reporters covering the doings in the American West filed their stories over telegraph lines that were not always reliable. By insisting stories be in inverted pyramid form, editors at least got the basics before the lines were taken out of service by extreme weather or some of my father's-side ancestors wearing various shades of war paint.

While the AP style isn't very entertaining, when your editor (or news release guide) calls for it, you stray at your peril.

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