The pyramid principle

by Barbara Minto

The Pyramid Principle

A good structure is fundamental in written communication

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In written communication, especially in business, the author's message is often lost or misunderstood. Most people write the way they think, explaining first the steps and reasoning they followed and then the result.

The author teaches us that all ideas and concepts can be structured in a pyramid-format. Understanding this pyramid structure will help you structure your thinking and communicate this thinking to others.

Structured thinking
To develop and structure your reasoning, you will normally move bottom up through the pyramid.
Easiest way to explain is to think about the following question: which animals exists?

Your reasoning: "Well, let's see, there's dogs and cats, fish and birds, bears and snakes and also lions. ...."
After making this long list you start making groups and come to the following groups: mamals, reptiles, birds, amphibians and fish.
Any animal can only below to one of these categories and every animal must find it's place or the pyramid is incomplete

Structured communication on your thinking
To explain the animal kingdom, it's easiest to move top down through your pyramid.
"Let's see, there's five big groups of animals,..." instead of explaining your thinking process "Let's see, I first though about listing all animals, there's cats and dogs, fish and bears and ... . Next, I grouped these animals based on...".
While it's clear that the former is a superior way of explaining your thinking, in business communication, people often follow the second path.