The Minto Pyramid Principle was created by Barbara Minto, who spent twenty years in corporate reporting and writing at McKinsey & Company. The Minto Pyramid Principle is a framework enabling writers to attract the attention of the reader with a simple yet compelling and memorable story.
Understanding the Minto Pyramid Principle
After she left the organization in 1973, Minto began her own consulting business to help business leaders write with conviction. Those lessons combined with her extensive corporate experience were then distilled into the Minto Pyramid Principle.
The principle is based on the premise that an argument is easier to understand – and far more convincing – when it is arranged in a pyramidal hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid sits the most important takeaway message of the piece, which is then followed by layers of evidence that flow in a logical order. Structuring the article in this way allows the reader to absorb a central idea and then be presented with information that supports it.
While the Minto Pyramid Principle is used to attract the attention of time-poor executives, it is arguably more effective as a persuasive communication tool. An entrepreneur may use the pyramid to win over prospective investors, while a leader may use it to communicate with project stakeholders during a proposal.
The three levels of the Minto Pyramid Principle hierarchy
Three levels comprise the Minto Pyramid Principle.
The bottom of the pyramid comprises the data and factual information that support arguments. From there, the writer should move through increasingly abstract levels until they arrive at their core message.
Let’s take a look at each level below, starting at the top.
1 – The answer
The answer is simply a clear, concise, and effective core message that has four components:
- Situation – good writers set the scene by describing a situation to create a mental picture in the mind of the reader.
- Complication – what is the factor causing the conflict, problem, or opportunity? These factors should compel the reader to act, or at the very least, continue reading.
- Question – then, a question is posed to highlight the decision an individual or business must face. The question should extend logically from the complication.
- Answer – or a recommendation that solves the problem and ensures the story has a happy ending. For businesses, solutions need to be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE).
2 – Supporting arguments
Supporting arguments should then be sorted, grouped, and summarised in a logical way. To facilitate this process, the Minto Pyramid Principle suggests “ideas in writing should always form a pyramid under a single thought.”
In other words, each supporting argument should resemble a mini-pyramid, complete with its own single thought (answer) and supporting arguments, data, and facts.
As a general rule, each single thought should be backed by three supporting arguments. Ideas at any level in the pyramid must also be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.
3- Supporting data or facts
As the name suggests, the bottom of the pyramid houses the evidence, data, and other findings that validate the supporting arguments.
Where applicable, it may also be wise to include customer testimonials on this level.
- The Minto Pyramid Principle is a framework enabling writers to attract the attention of the reader with a simple yet compelling and memorable story. It was developed by corporate writing consultant Barbara Minto.
- The Minto Pyramid Principle is traditionally used to attract the attention of time-poor executives, but it is also useful as a persuasive communication tool.
- The Minto Pyramid Principle has three levels. At the top of the pyramid is the answer, or a clear and concise core message that answers a question or solves a problem. Two more levels represent supporting arguments and supporting data and facts respectively.
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