Your browser is ancient!
Upgrade to a different browser to experience this site.

Skip to main content

The Art of Effective Communication

Inverted Triangle Useful Structure

Professor Brian Zikmund-Fisher expands on the Inverted Triangle strucutre in order to create compelling messages to larger audiences as part of the Foundational Skills for Communicating About Health MOOC.

Excerpt From


So the inverted triangle structure that we've been talking about is useful when you think about paragraphs. But it's also useful when you're thinking about the structure of your messages at a big level, at a macro level. You want to use the inverted triangle structure whenever the overall structure of your message. Absolutely, positively has to have the most important point come first. So where is this going to happen? When are you going to really need to make sure that your most important point comes first? One example that's commonly used is press releases. So let me give you an example. So here's a press release from the University of Michigan about a federal program that has been shown to reduce hospital readmissions that may have not been as successful as it appears. Notice that I basically just read the first sentence of this press release. All the additional information, and it goes on much past what I cut out here, are points that support that statement. And if that's all you get, we're actually doing pretty well. Here's another example. An afterschool program that empowers young people to be agents of change in their communities has helped 8th grade students in one Michigan area developed more prosocial behaviors and avoid antisocial behaviors. Sounds cool, right? I want to know more about this program and that's exactly what a press release is supposed to do. It's supposed to get it's core idea across in a way that makes you want to know more. Want to read more about the details, want to learn more about the study. And so the design of a press release, almost always, tries to make sure that it's core point, the lead, has that central message. Now, inverted triangle structure is not just useful for press releases. It's also useful any time you need to make what's often called a elevator pitch, right? You want to get your most important point out right up front. It's also something that you should be trained to think about if you're ever going to be interviewed. Now, I've gone through interview training, so that I could be interviewed by journalists about my research, about the kinds of health issues that we're communicating about. And the challenge is to find that sound bite, that one sentence central message that I want to make sure the journalist picks up on. That's the thing they want to pull out when they're writing up their story or even showing the interview, if I'm being interviewed on video. Here's a different kind of example. Medical discharge instructions, if I've got a patient who's leaving, say the emergency department. And they have to do certain behaviors in order to prevent infection or to keep taking their medications, I want to make sure that those instructions are right up front. The details can follow, but they better know those critical instructions. Grant proposals, and I keep talking about how important specific aims pages are. What the specific aims page? The first part of maybe dozens of pages, maybe hundreds of pages of a grant proposal or a larger proposal is about the core idea, the central message, the why should I care about this. And so thinking about that inverted triangle structure helps make sure that I get my point across. And that somebody doesn't have to read 10 or 20 pages before they know why they might want to care about whatever it is I'm proposing. When the absolute clarity of your key point is critical inverted triangle is often the best bet for making sure that people get that one critical point that they have to know.