The Pyramid Principle

ISBN-13: 978-0273710516

  • How to Write More

    The way I write more is by doing it every day. I write first thing in the morning (journaling and note taking) and publishing my notes (like this one). For work, I write product briefs to clarify the situation, my interpretation of the facts, and what we should do about it. I write memos for the team for anything important. I write investor updates. I do it without thinking—even when drafting a tricky email I’ll write it out to understand what I’m trying to do.

  • Never Write Sections of a Document as Categories

    Categories are not a useful way of demarcating sections in a document because they don’t support the structure of answering the key question of the document. For example ‘Background’ doesn’t say anything and the reader is forced to read through the section to connect the ideas rather than providing it to them. Section titles should answer the next question reader has from the preceding section to make it easier to understand your argument.

  • Don’t Use Deductive Arguments to Connect Key Lines, Use Inductive

    Connecting key lines in a document is important to answer the key question and provide clear reasoning. To do that, structure the document using inductive arguments rather than deductive arguments. That’s because a deductive structure could introduce a large distance (number of paragraphs) between the problem and answer which the reader would be required to hold in their head and build their own connections which can be confusing and difficult to read.

  • Format Code Like Prose

    Writing code is also writing for other people. We use many conventions in written communication to help with readability. Ever sit down to read someone else’s code and it’s giant wall of procedural statements for 100 lines straight? Imagine reading a paragraph that goes on for 100 lines.

  • Shape of Stories

    A lecture from Kurt Vonnegut about how to analyze and critique fictional stories. By graphing the plot along two axes, Good to Bad and Beginning to Entropy, you can visualize the story and compare their shapes to other stories. It also shows that stories seldom tell the truth that we don’t know what the good news is and what the bad news is.

  • Every Paragraph Should Have a BLUF

    The first sentence of every paragraph should be a BLUF. Readers can see the point right away without having to read through the entire paragraph. Readers don’t need to piece together the meaning themselves.

  • Thinking Better Thoughts

    I remember when I first started working at Stripe I felt like the dumbest person in the room. I was amazed at how smart everyone seemed and the writing…gosh, the writing! If I wanted to be like that too, something needed to change.

  • The Pyramid Principle (Literature Notes)

    The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto.

  • How to Write for Remote Teams

    Writing is the much-discussed secret to building great remote teams. How do you write for a remote team?

  • BLUF

    Stands for ‘below the line up front’ as a way leading with the conclusion from a memo. This helps save the reader time when sending a communication to a wider distribution and raises ambient knowledge of the organization.

  • Reading Is the Transformation of a Linked List of Ideas into a Tree

    We can only read one sentence at a time, but the resulting information received is tree-shaped. This presents a challenge to the writer to ensure the transformation matches the intended tree structure otherwise the reader may misinterpret the ideas shared. That’s why organizing ideas is important and explaining the connections between ideas so the reader doesn’t have to.

  • Ideas to Support a Key Line Should Be Inductive or Deductive

    When forming a horizontal relationship between ideas (e.g. supporting sentences of a summary statement), they should form an inductive or deductive argument. This makes the connection of ideas more clear to the reader and improves overall reader understanding.

  • Always Give the Summarizing Idea First

    To have clear writing, always give the summarizing idea first, before the individual ideas that are being summarized. This helps with clarity because you are providing the connection between the ideas upfront so the reader doesn’t need to make their own association which leads to confusion.

  • Minto Linter

    A theoretical tool that checks a piece of business writing against a set of rules from The Minto Pyramid Principle. Like a code linter, this would serve as a ratchet for improving the output of others—in this case, those sharing business writing like strategy memos, 1 pagers, and project briefs.

  • Writing a Message Should Be Brief and Contain a Single Idea

    Effective writing that gets a response is written for busy people. The message should be constrained to a single idea. The message should be brief, reducing as many words as possible.

  • Business Writing Should Always Answer a Key Question

    An easy way to spot bad business writing is to check if it poses and answers a key question. Even a highly detailed document that goes to great lengths to explore a subject is not useful if it leaves it up to the reader to figure out what to do about it.

  • SCQA

    SCQA stands for the *s*ituation, *c*omplication, *q*uestion, and *a*nswer. It’s a way of writing an introduction in a way that clearly communicates the key question a piece of writing will answer.