Barbara Minto‘s “The Minto Pyramid Principle” is a how-to guide for writing concise reports in a management consulting firm that has been around for years. I wrote a one sheet summary of her book over a decade ago that I still sometimes find to be a useful aid for writing. While it might be overkill for most writing we do, it is still a useful reference.
First Things First, Subject/Predicate
- What is the subject you are writing about?
- What is the question you are answering in the reader’s mind about the subject?
- What is the answer?
Make It a Story
- What is a situation where the Subject/Predicate can be illustrated?
- What problems complicate the situation?
- Do the question and answer still follow?
Find The Key Line or Take-Away
- What new question is raised by the answer?
- Will you answer it, inductively or deductively?
- If you answer inductively, what is your plural noun?
- Dramatize the main idea using imagery.
- Imagine a doer – for analysis and writing.
- List all the points you want to make, then find relationships.
- Ideas at any level must always be summaries of the ideas below.
- Ideas in each grouping must always be the same kind of idea.
- Ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered.
- Always try top down first.
- Use the Situation for thinking through the introduction.
- Don’t omit to think through the introduction.
- Always put historical chronology in the introduction.
- Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.
- Be sure to support all key line points.
- What is the problem?
- Where does it lie?
- Why does it exist?
- What could we do about it?
- What should we do about it?
- Introductions are meant to remind not inform.
- They should contain the three story elements.
- Length of introduction depends on reader and subject.
- Never use only one element for a heading.
- Show parallel ideas in parallel form.
- Limit to the essence of thought.
- Don’t regard headings as part of the text
- Introduce each group of headings.
- Don’t overdo.
- Question the order in a grouping – time, structure, or ranking.
- Question source(s) used in the problem solving process.
- Question the summary statement.
- Question your expression.
Structures for Evaluation
- Financial structure – consider strictly financial issues.
- Task structure – focus on how work gets done.
- Activity structure – focus on what needs to happen to create problem.
- Choice structure – bifurcate choices.
- Sequential structure – combination choice and activity structure.