Pyramid Principle

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What is the Pyramid Principle? Description

The Pyramid Principle (Minto)Barbara Minto's Pyramid Principle is a hierarchically structured thinking and communication technique that can be used to precede good structured writing. The Minto Pyramid Principle assumes that you already know how to write good sentences and paragraphs. It concentrates instead on the thinking process that should precede the writing.

The core of Minto's thinking method is to group Ideas in a presenter's thought process into small clusters that support the main Thesis in increasing detail (granularity). See the picture on the right. Supporting arguments can be based on:

  • Inductive reasoning: thinking process in which the premises of an argument support the conclusion but do not ensure it. Each of the elements in row two of the pyramid answers a question (e.g. why, how, how do you know) about the thesis above it.
  • Deductive reasoning: thinking process in which the conclusion is necessitated by previously known facts. One element logically leads to the next.

The best way to make any point or argument, says Barbara, is to structure the thinking in this way.

The method explains how to use the SCQ Framework (Situation, Complication, Question, Answer) to determine precisely the Idea you want communicate and the order in which you should make your points:

  • A common Situation is that knowledge workers must quickly produce a text about a complex issue.
  • An example of a Complication of the above Situation is that the creators of these texts have a tendency to get side tracked. Also they have limited time available. And the readers hate thick reports.
  • The Question thus becomes: how can short, concise, and clear reports be created in a short timeframe?
  • The Answer is the technique provided by Minto.

Origin of the Pyramid Principle. History

Barbara Minto developed The Minto Pyramid Principle through her early work as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, Inc.

Usage of the Pyramid Principle. Applications

The technique is most useful for those people in an organization who must write analytical documents, on the basis of which senior managers must make decisions. Probably those senior managers complain that it takes too long to get to the point. The model applies to every type of writing in which your purpose is to present your thinking to the reader - from 1-page memos to 50-page reports to 300 page books, from simple slide presentations to multi-media expositions. Specifically, it helps its user to:

  1. Think creatively, reason lucidly, and express ideas with clarity.
  2. Define complex problems and establish the objectives of any document.
  3. Assess ideas and recognize their relative importance.
  4. Structure reasoning into a coherent and transparent argument.
  5. Analyze the argument to confirm its effectiveness.

Steps in the Pyramid Principle. Process

There are several components to the overall method:

  1. Build the Minto Pyramid.
  2. Structure ideas to be communicated within the "Situation, Complication, Question, Answer" (SCQ) framework.
  3. Create compelling summaries and lists of items.

With respect to the book authored by Barbara Minto (The Minto Pyramid Principle), there are four overall sections of study:

  • Part One explains the necessity to group and summarize ideas into a pyramid under a single idea directed at a single question. Also it shows you how to use that understanding to find your reader’s question and to structure your ideas to answer it. Beginning with the SCQ Framework.
  • Part Two tells you how to look critically at the detail of your thinking. In this way you can make sure that the ideas you have included are both relevant and complete. And also you can verify that your summary points actually reflect the insights inherent in the various idea groupings.
  • Part Three explains how to use a variety of analytical frameworks to structure your analysis at various stages in the problem-solving process. In this way the results of the analysis can be in effect pre-organized to fit easily into a pyramid structure.
  • Part Four discusses techniques for making sure the pyramid structure is not lost on the reader as you transfer your ideas from the pyramid, either to written prose or to slides in an oral presentation.

Strengths of Pyramid Principle. Benefits

  • Cut down the time that is normally needed to produce a first draft.
  • Increase its clarity.
  • Decrease its length.
  • The overall result of the method is that ideas jump off the page, into the reader’s mind. With minimum effort on the reader’s part.

Limitations of Pyramid Principle. Disadvantages

  • It takes a lot of discipline to both learn and apply the methods consistently.
  • Some critics say the original book makes a less than compelling argument for taking the time to use the methods.

Book: Barbara Minto - The Minto Pyramid Principle

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Careful with Inductive Reasoning
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Minto Pyramid Principle Books
Your page references the "Pyramid Principle" book via Amazon. The later and much better Minto Pyramid Principle book was self published by Barbara and is only available from her web site: barbaramint...

Best Practices

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Expert Tips

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Information Sources

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Business Communication: How to Write a Well-organized Message

Business Communication, Message Writing, Communication a Message
This extensive presentation contains multiple advises and recommendations for the Organization of a Message, including w...

Minto's Pyramid Principle in Practice

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This PowerPoint put Minto's Pyramid Principle in practice and makes clear how the Pyramid can be used. To do this, three...

Pyramid Principle Diagram

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Download and edit this 12manage PowerPoint graphic for limited personal, educational and business use. Republishing in ...

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