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The Minto Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing, Thinking, & Problem Solving

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This work has been designed as an aid to the logical presentation of business communications. Topics covered range from the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning, to a discussion of how to highlight the structure of information.

254 pages, Hardcover

First published June 28, 1987

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Barbara Minto

2 books47 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 203 reviews
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,182 followers
September 19, 2018
A generation ago, this was an important bestselling book about structured informational writing. It shows how to organise information clearly and persuasively. Nowadays, it is of historical interest, more than practical use.

Start with your Conclusion

Ideas at any level in the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.

That is the main concept of this. It’s one long known and followed by any competent journalist, but equally applicable in business and technical writing.

Image: Rob Atkinson’s illustration

In practice:
1. Start with the answer: the top of the pyramid summarises what’s below.
2. Group and summarise supporting arguments: the same kind of idea in each group.
3. Logically order supporting ideas within each group.
• Time: use to show cause and effect sequence.
• Structural: break a singular thought into components.
• Degree: rank from most to least important.

General Tips

The magic number of ideas in a group is three.

Seven plus or minus two is the max ideas one can hold in short-term memory - George A Miller

Introduction should tell a story:
1. Situation
2. Complication
3. Solution (question and answer)

Q&A dialogue:
1. Topic - what is subject/question?
2. Various answers below
3. Lead to next level questions (can also refer back up)

Deduction and Induction

There’s also a whole chapter on the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning. I confess I didn’t really get it:

• Deduction leads from a summary to a “therefore” conclusion. The points derive from each other.
• Induction starts with facts or ideas that are defined as similar or related in some way and then explains that sameness.

Most of us default to deductive. Inductive is more creative, but it is harder to do well.


My edition is from 2002, which looks identical to the latest on Amazon from 2009. But it reads like a book from 1987, when it was first published.

Back then, word-processing barely existed, let alone templates and stylesheets, with multi-level headings, dozens of fonts, and myriad formatting effects. The pages here would have looked clear and innovative, with navigation cues of headings, numbers, indents, shading, and lots of diagram. Nowadays, the advice about headings, fonts, and numberings is too simple, basic, and out of date.

Being old is not an excuse for a technical book lacking an index. (Pet hate.)

What This is Not

It’s about documents: analyses, reports, reviews, proposals, presentations, and memos. There is no advice about delivering presentations, let alone the dreaded PowerPoint, which was released the same year as this book.

If you want tips on creating and delivering presentations, try:
• Andi Lightheart's Presentation Now
• Tim Stockil's Start With An Earthquake
Profile Image for Richard Newton.
Author 27 books569 followers
July 6, 2018
Oh dear. A clear example of how even the best professional books age badly.

I'm having a flurry of reading professional books right now. I can't read them all the time, so I swallow them in batches. And now it is the turn of the Pyramid Principle. For those who don't know The Pyramid Principle is one of the classic books of the consulting industry. I first came across it over 25 years ago when I was working for the consultancy A.T. Kearney. Whilst never exactly a fun read, it then seemed like good advice, well explained.

It is essentially the book that defined the way that many of the strategy firms, like McKinsey, developed presentations and documents. At least they did. They may still do so, but fortunately I don't need to know that sort of thing anymore.

The problem with the book is that reading it in 2018 it reads almost like something from the Victorian era. I exaggerate, but it just feels so old and ponderous. It was obviously written for the era of the typewriter and overhead projector. You can't help thinking Barbara Minto should hire a modern author to give it a zippy overhaul and create a book about a third the length with more punch. Another problem is it is so self certain. It does not explain this as a way to write - but the one and only way to write, which I am little doubtful of.

Reading the references is interesting, as Minto certainly picked some serious influences, including Wittgenstein, Chomsky, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. The influence of Popper is evident. I was less clear about how the others had influenced her book. What is noticeable is there is no reference published after 1972, and many are much older. I know this book was first published in 1978 - but I have just read the "2009 revised edition". The existence of any 21st century revisions is not evident.

The reason I still give it 3 stars rather than less, is below the long winded style and outdated examples, is some seriously good advice about how to structure your thinking and your writing. Good advice, that many modern pithy writers could heed, to make their writing clearer and have more impact. If you have the patience and stamina its worth the effort, but don't expect hours of fun.
Profile Image for Randy.
50 reviews4 followers
August 15, 2010
This is my all time favorite book on persuasive writing. As of this review date, I have read the book thirteen times. My goal for this abundant contact has been to super learn the concepts, which are otherwise difficult to perceive with only passing exposure.

I came upon this book in 1994 when my partner's girlfriend who was then the librarian at McKinsey and Company (NYC), the world famous management consultancy, lent the book to me, saying that it was considered the "Bible" of writing process at the firm. Barbara Minto created this masterpiece of thought leadership while employed there and then moved on to teach these concepts globally to most of the major consulting firms and to many of the Fortune 100.

The book teaches readers how to shape ideas into a disciplined order. Done correctly, this enables writers to communicate powerfully with future readers so that they can identify those communicated ideas--regardless of whether or not they ultimately agree with them--quickly and easily.

The book is targeted to the experienced and knowledgeable business reader, which makes the concepts difficult to grasp for the uninitiated. Much can be gleaned from the first couple of chapters, however, even for those with little business knowledge or vocabulary. And with perseverance and multiple read-throughs the concepts become easier and easier to assimilate. Obviously, I believe that multiple exposures to it is well rewarded in the end.
Profile Image for loafingcactus.
429 reviews48 followers
September 1, 2013
As a philosophy major, I appreciate how Minto has provided an efficient presentation of concepts of argumentation that one could spend a lifetime learning from the long history of available scholarship. As an MBA student, I see that the book is too complicated and too cumbersome to be useful to my peers. This is a book that requires focused study, and my peers have neither the bandwidth nor the necessary background to do that.

How I found out about this book was at a business writing seminar that was excellent. The instructor reported that he had interviewed various executives about what was most important in communication, and this book kept coming up. He taught the course entirely from principles contained in this book. It takes a translator like that for business people to get the most out of this book.

Therefore, I really recommend it to corporate trainers. As for business people, it would only be useful if it were part of a study circle or something like this which would force you to spend enough time with the book and to acquire the necessary additional resources in logic and rhetoric.
April 29, 2022
Consider me properly intimidated by the prospect of ideas jumping me right from the page. *Shudders* If there ever was a contender for the most irritating book of the generation, this is the one. Ugh. It's a useful book that has got some useful ideas. Some of these are even sane (not all! but that's probably enough).

I don't know what I want to do more: burn this book at stake, hug and congratulate the author or burn the book some more? Probably all at once.

The main problem is that everything is so very dogmatically presented as in if you use 4 bullets instead of 3 it must be a catastrophe in progress. Another thing is that everyone, obviously, is so very challenged in understanding everyone else, all the time, on every little thing including whether guys have beards and WHY do they beards. Like, whether this is a fashion statement, sign of progressiveness or lackluster something or in which cities / officies there are guys with what types of facial hair or lack thereof. Ugh. UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUgh! I've always felt that if that's the case, how about maybe the person who has trouble understanding stuff just gets some sleep?How about maybe everything could feel much easier to get in the morn? I think that would help a lot since consultants are so very darn often sleep-deprived to the extent where the very regular and some quite bright people actually start needing all kinds of verbal, non-verbal and structural cues to understand even easy-peasy stuff (example: when making a sandwitch feels to be an insurmountable task or when you can spend hours debating the merits of round vs square bulletpoint markers).

The main good thing is that there actually are some people who are undisciplined and unstructured in their reasoning and its presentation to the extent where anything they would say or write would feel as illuminating as rocket science articles written in Anctient Greek and just slightly less lucid than Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream. Overall, this could be not a bad result whenever one feels like lots of editing and rewriting trash but BUT it's an immense pleasure to hand Pyramid Principle Present Your Thinking So Clearly That the Ideas Jump Off the Page and into the Reader's Mind to these Wunderkinder. The weird thing is that a very high percentage of them become total bona fide adepts immediately (and start preaching right back at you!).
Profile Image for Aly.
101 reviews4 followers
March 5, 2022
Some of my key takeaways from The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto:

- Separate the thinking process from the writing process. Complete your thinking before you begin to write. Benefits: time saver, better thought processing, more efficient delivery of thoughts to the receiver.

- You need to have a structure. Just like in speech, your writing has to be well structured to better present your thoughts.

- The key take-aways from the Pyramid Principle were:
* Start with the answer first.
* Group and summarize your supporting arguments.
* Logically order your supporting ideas.

- You are more persuasive when you are direct.

- The key skill is to be able to recognize which are your major and which your minor ideas, and work out their relationships within the structure.

- Every document you write will always be structured to support only one single thought - the one that summarizes your final set of groupings. 

- Use headings to highlight your structure.

- Write captivating introductions.
* Start with a question that’s relevant for your reader.
* You write primarily to tell people what they don’t know. But a reader wants to find out what they don’t know only if they need to do so.
* Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.

- Focus on three ideas at most, only one is even better: 
* The mind cannot hold more than about seven items in its short-term memory at any one time. Some minds can hold as many as nine items, while others can hold only five. (the magical number 7, +/- 2 - George A. Miller).
Profile Image for Adam Rabiner.
130 reviews3 followers
August 15, 2012
I finally got to this book after many years of having it sit on my shelf. I don't think it has aged very well. It's well written (as a book on logical and good thinking and writing should be) but in an age of iPhone apps and software I am not certain that a book is the best tool for practicing the Pyramid Principle. There's too much reading and not enough doing and practice. The early chapters are easier to comprehend. Some of the later chapters are particularly dense and harder to follow. While there's knowledge to be gained here, I think Minto needs to hire a clever programmer, use new, more contemporary examples, and get with the 21st century.
Profile Image for Sam Stagg.
15 reviews
January 19, 2019
A turgid, dated slog. Barbara Minto appears to believe so deeply in "substance over style" that she has eschewed any sense of style whatsoever. Example quotes from Keynes, Chesterton, and Thoreau are glasses of water in the desert.

And yet. The idea of putting business writing in this format is compelling. I'd like to think this book has improved the structure of my writing already, and I will be recommending it to others.

If you believe you can absorb the message of this book without actually having to read it (perhaps using something like this slide deck), do that instead.
13 reviews
November 17, 2019
For a book that is about structured writing it is surprisingly hard to get through.
Profile Image for Charmin.
870 reviews48 followers
June 9, 2021
1. The structure permits you to see the flaws and omissions.

2. An idea statement raises a question in the reader’s mind because you are telling him something he does not know. The writer will continue to write, raising and answering questions, until he reaches a point at which he judges the reader will have no more logical questions.
- The way to ensure the reader's attention is to refrain from raising any question in the reader’s mind before you are ready to answer them.
- Any point you make must raise a question in the reader’s mind, you must answer it.

3. Introductory Flow – your document is of interest by directing it toward answering a question that already exists in the reader’s mind, or that would exist if he thought for a minute about what is going on around him. Narrative pattern development (a situation, complication, question, answer).

4. Inspire your readers to ask the question YOU wish to address.

5. Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.
Profile Image for Martino.
4 reviews
November 28, 2020

The Minto Pyramid Principle is perhaps one of the most common books on the topic of effective business communications. Indeed, due to the fast pace of business changing and shorter attention span of business executives in these days; clear, concise, and straight-to-the-point communication is much needed. By using the top-down approach and SCQA method guided in the book, readers will be able to sort ideas logically and comprehend complex problems by breaking them down into simple things.

The first part introduces logic in writing and the second part focus on logic in thinking, or the problem-solving process. Below is the summary of the steps in order to build a pyramid structure.

1. Start with your conclusion, the key take-away
- Topic - what is the Subject/Question? (SCQA method)
• Summarize the action ideas by stating the effect of carrying out the actions
• situation ideas by stating what is implied by their similarity to each other.
- Various answers below a key line (next questions coming up to the reader mind like how or why)

2. Group and summarise supporting arguments: the same kind of idea in each group.
- The magic number is three and the max number of ideas is seven.
- The substructures must be MECE and support the summary statement above with regards to the vertical & horizontal relationships and the introductory flow.
- Ideas should be arranged deductively or inductively.
• Deductively: Deduction leads from a summary to a “therefore” conclusion. The points derived from each other.
• Inductively: Induction starts with facts or ideas that are defined as similar or related in some way and then explains that sameness.
- Lead to next level questions (can also refer back up by using backward referencing, summarizing, and concluding)

3. Logically order supporting ideas within each group.
- Time Order: use to show cause and effect sequence.
- Structural Order: break a singular thought into components.
- Degree Order: rank from most to least important.

4. Putting your ideas into readable words by creating an image in your head and copy the images in words.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for David R..
955 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2013
There's a nugget of a very good technique here, but the illustrative and diagnostic material is often obscure and difficult to follow. Some executives will become excited at the goal of this book, no doubt, but in the insufficient inertia will be generated to move beyond the fad phase.
Profile Image for Matthew Geleta.
46 reviews2 followers
October 23, 2018
This is a superbly practical and readable book. It immediately improved my own writing. Definitely a recommendation for anyone regularly engaged in business writing.
Profile Image for Murat.
15 reviews4 followers
December 29, 2019
This book introduces a structured approach, called the Pyramid Principle, which is a logical ordering of the ideas presented in a written document. Author argues that this is a top-down ordering of ideas, and more understandable by readers. Abstract concepts are in the beginning (the top of the pyramid). These ideas are then refined using induction and deduction in the rest of the writing (the lower layers of the pyramid). Each of the lower levels support the upper, more abstract layers in a structured way, which recursively goes as deep as the subject requires.

As an engineer, the ideas presented in the book resonated very well with me. Author herself used that structure in the book, which made it a relatively easy reading. However, the examples (exhibits) presented are related to business and I had hard time following, hence the 1 star off.
Profile Image for Nancy Madrigal.
21 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2021
1.5 estrellas.

Boring af.

No sé si porqué fue lectura obligatoria del trabajo o qué pero se me hizo aburrido de principio a fin y hasta un bloqueo lector me ocasionó.

Le puse 1.5 estrellas al final porque sí me llevé un par de cosas (que bien podían resumirse en 5 páginas). Quizás es para otro tipo de público.
2 reviews1 follower
August 9, 2021
A lot of unclear writing comes from incomplete logic rather than style. I found Minto's classic book really useful, and have tried to learn her approach to get structure and clarity to presentations and analyses. The language in this edition felt a bit dated but her approach is effective.
15 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2021
A little bit old, and sometimes hard to read, but the content is awesome and helped me a lot on how to shape ideas that can convince people to take action.
Profile Image for Moriah.
29 reviews
April 21, 2023
Ugh, for someone who wants to share how writing can be compelling and logically sound this book is dry and utterly boring.
Profile Image for Santosh.
81 reviews11 followers
June 7, 2023
Though considered a great advice on "Communication" and "Writing" - Suprisingly the book itself is poorly written!

You get bored while reading and following.
If you want to grasp the content - you really need to make efforts.
Wonder - I think someone else shall rewrite the topic with better narrative and examples.
Profile Image for Thao Nguyen.
3 reviews
July 20, 2021
A great book recommended by my professor. A good start to logical thinking and problem-solving. You will be equipped with problem-solving techniques: the process of elimination, issue tree, induction/ deduction and abduction, etc. starts from arranging your thoughts to delivering them to the receivers effectively.
72 reviews6 followers
April 11, 2018
Why This Book Was Written: This is the handbook that every management or strategy consultant should keep at his/her desk.

Synthesis: Written by a McKinsey consultant, this is a legendary book that walks through how to solve problems effectively and present them using a method called Pyramid Logic pioneered by the author. This is the central framework used by the top management consultants and business analysts today. This book is probably the only guide a consultant needs to read before setting off in his journey.

Key Techniques:

- The Situation -> Complication -> Question -> Answer framework that is used at management and strategy consulting firms across the world

- How to use decision trees, PERT analysis and other diagnostic tools to break down, solve and communicate complex problems

- Inductive vs Deductive reasoning and their uses

- This is the book that introduced MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive) thinking to the world

- Many case studies of real life consulting problems and their solutions

I would go so far as to say that this should be required reading for anyone who aspires to be a management or strategy consultant, business analyst, project manager or someone who is even remotely required to think and solve problems on a daily basis (which is most of us).

Highly, highly recommended as a handbook of effective thinking to come back to time and time again.
Profile Image for Brad Revell.
225 reviews10 followers
September 25, 2016
The Pyramid Principle is a classic book written by Barbara Minto back in the late 80s. The approach and structure of this book has survived the test of times and it is now up to its 3rd edition. I read it in the mid-2000s after it being recommended by the Manager-Tools team and recently re-read it again.

For those that struggle with business writing, Minto provides a structure on how to lay out your thoughts as well as take into consideration the reader so that you can maximise the message that gets passed to whoever consumes your work. There are a number of psychological concepts outlined in the book along with practical associations that can be leveraged when writing. Given I'm a big fan of mind-mapping I was a little dubious reading this the second time, however, it was evident how many synergies there are between the two concepts.

Three key takeaways from the book:
1. Storytelling should always revolve around the four key areas (in sequence): Situation, Complication, Question and Answer
2. Never call a heading "Findings" or "Conclusion" as they do not provide the reader with any insight
3. The problem solving process is really a simple set of 5 questions: What? Where? Why? What can we do about it? What should we do about it?
September 18, 2017
Думаю, всем, кому по работе приходится вести деловую переписку и составлять различные документы, пригодится это руководство по деловому письму.
Барбара Минто на основе своего огромного опыта дает практические рекомендации, как писать доходчиво, ясно и убедительно, как правильно организовать структуру документа, сгруппировать свои идеи и донести их до читателей.
Структурируя текст, мы также структурируем и свои мысли по данной теме. Работа над текстом помогает найти изъяны и пробелы в собственных умозаключениях, тем самым улучшив не только форму подачи, но и содержание.
На конкретных примерах Минто разбирает распространенные недостатки деловой документации и показывает, как их можно исправить.
Принципы Минто подходят для почти любых нехудожественных текстов, в первую очередь, для деловых писем, технической и бизнес-документации, отчетов, докладов и презентаций, а также и для написания эссе, статей и даже книг.
Те же подходы применимы к аналитическому исследованию и решению проблем.
Profile Image for Fabio Moioli.
1 review1 follower
August 4, 2008
A superb book with many valuable recommendations and tips for writing well-structured business documents. The framework described in it is highly effective in any non-narrative writing and it is used in most top-class consultancy firms.

The book is also good for gaining some insight on hypothesis-led problem solving, both in the case of inductive and in the case of deductive reasoning. In this respect, it is full of examples that challenge unstructured and unorganized thinking and writing.

It may useful to complement it with other books on creative thinking (e.g. Edward De Bono's), mind-maps (e.g. Tony Buzan's), and psycho-linguistic approaches (e.g. NLP, TA, etc.)

Profile Image for Jason Radisson.
9 reviews2 followers
April 13, 2023
Barbara Minto wrote the Pyramid Principle to help first-year McKinsey consultants quickly level up their decision-making skills and business judgement.

For context: global businesses require a high volume of high-quality decisions — quite an adjustment if like a lot of first years you’re coming from academia where research is more organic.

The main skill the book teaches is front-loading business communication with an actionable ‘so-what’ before delving deeper in the supporting analyses and data. Having the work shine through in the recommendation, rather than the other way around.

Being ‘ambidextrous’ in this sense has become a real superpower for me personally in my career.

Profile Image for Jesse Posey.
8 reviews
March 28, 2023
A little dense but a good guide for principles of clear and effective writing/thinking.
Profile Image for Manas Saloi.
275 reviews735 followers
June 18, 2021
The book reads like an academic text. I spent a lot of time in the first half and then skimmed the 2nd. The best part is that the key points are summarised at the end of the book.

Things I learned:
2. Pyramid principle
3. Understand the key question
4. Bullet points
5. Why inductive reasoning is better than deductive
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