While some writers feel inhibited following a standard format, these forms help organize information so the reader can easily understand the topic even if they're just skimming the paper or website. They also help entice the reader to read further.
The Inverted Pyramid - First developed and widely used during the Civil War, the inverted pyramid is best suited for hard news stories. The article begins with the lede and presents information in order of descending importance. The most important information comes first, followed by less important details.
The Hourglass - builds on the inverted pyramid and combines a narrative. It delivers breaking news and tells a story. The first 4-6 paragraphs contain a summary lede and answer the most pressing questions. Then a transitional phrase cites the source of the upcoming story - "Police say the incident occurred after closing last night." The article concludes with the chronological story.
The Nut Graph - developed by the Wall Street Journal in the 1940s, it includes an anecdotal lede that gets the reader's attention, followed by a paragraph that provides larger context for the story and moves the article in that direction. This form lets the reporter explore larger issues behind an incident. For example, a nutgraph article might begin with the story of a fire, then move into a discussion of budget cuts that lead to delays in fighting the fire.
The Narrative - has a beginning, middle, and end just like a story. One famous example, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, was actually published as a novel. But for most news articles, narratives should be short and to the point and used only where telling a personal story helps to convey the point of the article. The New Yorker is noted for using narrative form.
The Five Boxes Story - combines the forms listed above. Useful when you have a lot of data to sort through. Box 1 contains the lede, Box 2 contains the nutgraph, Box 3 tells the story begun in Box 1, Box 4 contains supplemental details such as statistics or expert opinions, and Box 5 contains the "kicker" or the quote, image, or comment that ends the story on a strong note.