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The Pyramid Principle

Logic in Writing and Thinking

By Barbara Minto
15-minute read
Audio available
The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking by Barbara Minto

Never has clear, convincing communication been as important as in today’s information-cluttered environment. The Pyramid Principle (1978) explains in detail how written documents and presentations can be logically structured, and the methods described in the book are used by almost every major management consultancy on the planet.

  • Professionals whose work involves preparing documents, presentations or written communications
  • Anyone who wants to be more persuasive in their written communications
  • Anyone who wants to learn about effective tools for problem-solving and structuring presentations

Barbara Minto is a former McKinsey & Co. consultant who now focuses on teaching the Pyramid Principle to some of the world’s largest corporations and government organizations.

As a consultant at McKinsey & Co, Minto realized that while most people could get the language of written documents right, many struggled with the clarity of the actual thinking behind them. She developed the Pyramid Principle to teach the foundations required for clear writing.

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The Pyramid Principle

Logic in Writing and Thinking

By Barbara Minto
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking by Barbara Minto
Synopsis

Never has clear, convincing communication been as important as in today’s information-cluttered environment. The Pyramid Principle (1978) explains in detail how written documents and presentations can be logically structured, and the methods described in the book are used by almost every major management consultancy on the planet.

Key idea 1 of 10

To assist the reader, organize your thinking into a pyramid shape before starting to write.

When preparing a document, most people have a pretty good idea of what they intend to write about but no specific plan for what to say or how to phrase it. Usually, they simply begin writing, hoping the structure will emerge on its own from their stream of consciousness. This results in a jumbled narrative, leaving the reader to sort out the mess.

The mind prefers order to disorder, and even imposes imagined order on random data it encounters. Consider for instance the ancient Greeks, who imagined animal shapes in the stars rather than seeing them as mere random dots.

Similarly, it has been shown that when reading, people automatically attempt to organize information in any written document into a certain form, namely a top-down pyramid shape, where conclusions are supported by justifications and arguments, much like a pyramid is supported by its cornerstones.

It is easiest for a reader to digest information if it comes presorted into a logical pyramid shape.

Consider the following statements: “The seats were cold. I almost got into a fight. Italy didn’t play well. That really was an awful football match.” This “story” is poorly structured, since the actual main statement is withheld until the very end.

A top-down pyramid structure means that the document first introduces a summary statement and then the reasoning behind it. The above narrative would have been much easier to understand if structured in such a way: “That really was an awful football match: the seats were cold, I almost got into a fight and Italy did not play well.”

To assist the reader, organize your thinking into a pyramid shape before starting to write.

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