The clearest sequence to write is “top-down”, i.e., give summarizing idea before the individual ideas being summarized. This approach require the reader to comprehend with least mental effort.

The idea to include in a writing therefore forms a pyramid, and should follow the following rules: [Ch1]

  • Ideas at any level must always summaries the ideas grouped below
  • Ideas in each grouping must be the same kind of idea
  • Ideas in each grouping must be logically ordered
    • Deductively (major premise, minor premise, conclusion)
    • Chronologically (first, second, third)
    • Structurally (Boston, New York, Washington)
    • Comparatively (most important, next most important)

The vertical relationship in a pyramid structure is a “question-answer” dialogue with the reader. To ensure reader attention, we should not raise the question in reader’s mind until we are ready to write the answer.

The horizontal relationship, i.e., ideas in a group, should either be deductive (argument in successive steps) or inductive (ideas that can be described by the same plural noun, e.g., reasons or steps). [Ch2]

Build a pyramid

Writing should be storytelling. Flow of a story is situation, complication, question, and answer (S-C-Q-A). It is easier to arouse reader’s interest by reminding reader the questions he can expect to answer. [Ch2]

Situation should be proposed to build reader’s interest. It creates a psychological effect to tell reader the things he will agree prior to things he may disagree. Complication of the situation is what happened that inevitably leads to a question. [Ch4]

There are two ways to build a pyramid structure:

  • Top-down
    • Make up Q & A, then identify the S & C
    • Build pyramid after recheck the logic make sense
  • Bottom up
    • List all points you want to make
    • Work out the relationship (cause-and-effect) between them, then draw conclusions

Usually it is easier to think by starting from situation. And more efficient to communicate by inductive grouping of ideas. [Ch3]

In writing, however, there could be different orders of S-C-Q-A: [Ch4]

  • Standard: situation-complication-solution
  • Direct: Solution-situation-complication
  • Concerned: Complication-situation-solution
  • Aggressive: Question-situation-complication


Deductive ideas are connected with “therefore”, and inductive ideas are several different things similar in some way that brings them together in a group.

Inductive groupings: [Ch6]

  • Time order: cause and effects
    • grouping of steps of actions
    • should be <5 items, include only the closely related ones
  • Structural order
    • reflects what you see once you have visualized something
    • points should be mutually exclusive of each other and collectively exhaustive of the whole (MECE)
  • Degree order
    • class groupings (grouping = rough categories of smaller items)

After grouping for inductive ideas, we write the summary point. The summary point should not be intellectually blank, e.g., not to say “he did it for three reasons” but to say “he did it because they are teh same kind of people”. The summary should state the specific effects achieved by subordinate ideas together.

We should avoid gibberish sentences. The effect mentioned in the summary point should be specific and avoiding vague language. A good summary should reflect a direct end product from the actions. It should answer the following: [Ch7]

  • What we are expected to do?
  • How will we know we have done it?

A proper summary statement helps to find out what you really think and verifies the grouping is correct. The grouping should be:

  • All ideas that possess a characteristic in common, which the summary will be the significance of their similarity
  • Actions that must be taken together to achieve a desired effect, which the summary will be the effect

Problem solving techniques

Sequential analysis:

  1. Is there likely to be a problem or opportunity? (Define the problem)
  2. Where does it lie?
  3. Why does it exist? (Structure the analysis)
  4. What could we do about it? (Find the solution)
  5. What should we do about it?

Four elements to define a problem: [Ch8]

  1. Starting point/Opening scene
  2. The disturbing event
    • external (competitor, new technology)
    • internal (expanded to new market, change of business process)
    • recently recognized (lagging performance, shift in customer attitude)
  3. Undesired result (R1)
  4. Desired result (R2)

In 1950-1960s, the early days of consulting, the standard approach is to identify the key factor for success in the industry and compare with client’s strength and weaknesses. Then develop specific recommendations to capitalize on opportunities and solve problems. This approach was wasteful as the facts found by the consultants are only marginally connected to the client’s real problem.

The improved approach is to structure the analysis of the problem before gathering any data (the classic scientific method):

  1. Generate alternative hypotheses
  2. Devise crucial experiments with alternative possible outcomes, each should exclude one ore more of the hypotheses
  3. Carry out experiments
  4. Plan remedial actions accordingly

Picture techinques to diagnose a problem (for revealing a problem, not to be confused with decision trees or PERT diagrams):

  • structure chart: Trace the cause-effect elements, activities, or tasks that make up a particular end result
  • choice diagram: visualize the sequential process, and possible bifurcations
  • logic tree: generate possible solutions and the likely impact (step 4-5 in sequential analysis)

The picture is a explanatory vehicle for communication, you can tell

  • What the structure/system looks like today as it delivers R1
  • What the structure/system ideally should look like to deliver the desired R2
  • What are the major decision variables (MDVs, environmental, economic, administrative, and social factors affecting each activity), and how the MDVs would affect performance [Ch9]


Written presentation: Should have your entire thinking in the first 30 seconds of reading.

Reflecting pyramid hierarchy: by headings (heading levels, numbered points, indented display, dot-dash outlines). Standard set of headings in consulting proposals: [Ch 10]

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Objectives and scope
  • Issues
  • Technical approach
  • Work plan and deliverables
  • Benefits
  • Firm qualifications and related experience
  • Timing, staffing, and fees

We do all our conceptual thinking in images rather than in words (visual imagery). A useful way to help yourself write lucid prose is to force yourself to visualize the relationships inherent in your ideas. Once you have a clear mental image, you can straightaway translate it into sentences. [Ch12]

Screen presentation: Slides should be simple, not to serve as handouts [Ch11]

  • brevity: ≤6 lines or ≈30 words on a single line
  • text size: Distance to farthest viewer (feet) ÷ 32 = smallest legible letter size (inch)

Bibliographic data

   title = "The Minto Pyramid Principle. Logic in Writing, Thinking and Problem Solving",
   author = "Barbara Minto",
   publisher = "Minto International Inc",
   year = "2003",
   isbn = "0-9601910-4-6",