300 Days of Better Writing

October 21, 2013

Use the pyramid structure to provide descriptions.

The pyramid structure is familiar to journalists. It involves starting with broad information and proceeding to specific details. Good descriptions do the same. They start by providing a broad look at the thing described and proceed to detailed information. Here’s an example.

The library was empty of books. Shelf after shelf was covered only in dust. The reading carrels were missing the familiar stacks of books. The check-out desk was unmanned, and the book return cart held nothing but air.

As in this example, we start with a general picture of the thing we’re describing. This allows the reader to create a context for the details that will follow. We provide a framework that gives meaning to the details. As we move toward greater specificity, the reader can begin filling in details, and each new piece of information will make sense due to the broader description that precedes it.

The end result is that the entire description makes sense, each piece of information has value, and the reader understands and can picture what we are describing.

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