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This book was first published in the US in 1987 and then in the UK in 1991. The review that follows is of an edition published in 2002. The title refers to the core concept within the framework Barbara Minto recommends in order to present material "so clearly that the ideas jump off the page and into the reader's mind." The same framework will also guide and inform preparation of presentations to groups. According to Minto, research clearly indicates that "the mind automatically sorts information into distinctive pyramidal groupings in order to comprehend it. Any grouping of ideas is easier to comprehend if it arrives presorted into its pyramid. This suggests that every written document should be deliberately structured to form a pyramid of ideas." In this volume, Minto explains how to structure the provision of material in ways and to the extent that accommodate the structure of how those who receive, absorb, and digest it.

Others have expressed their reactions to this book. Here are two of mine. First, if I understand Minto's thesis (and I may not), the three aforementioned "findings about the way the mind works" seem to refer far more to the subconscious than to the conscious mind. If so, I question how Minto's highly rational approach to writing clear business documents can accommodate the need to communicate effectively in non-verbal ways (e.g. body language and tone of voice). Minto's approach requires completing a rigorous, disciplined, and focused process (a geometric progression, really) that presupposes that the recipient of the given document will absorb and digest (not merely organize) the material in a comparable manner.

My second reaction is that Minto's content is generally quite solid (despite what I view as a few questionable premises) but that her writing style often lacks any "Snap! Crackle! And Pop!" The narrative comes across (at least to me) as resembling instructions in an operations manual for a writing machine. Consider this brief excerpt from Chapter 2:

" cannot hope to just sit down and start arranging your ideas in a pyramid. You have to discover them first. But the pyramid dictates a rigid set of substructures that can serve to speed the discovery process. These are:

o The vertical relationship between points and subpoints

o The horizontal relationship within a set of subpoints

o The narrative flow of the introduction"

I do not doubt that this approach worked for Minto when she generated and then organized the material for this book about that approach. The question remains, does Minto's presentation of such material engage the reader's heart as well as mind? It seems ironic that she acknowledges the importance of using various elements of "the story" (i.e. characters, situation, plot, conflict, resolution) but only in Chapter 4 when discussing "Fine Points of Introductions." Seldom throughout this book do Minto's ideas "jump off the page and into [her] reader's mind."

My guess (only a guess) is that this book will have the greatest appeal to -- and greatest value for -- those who already think as clearly and precisely as Minto obviously does. They and she would be well-advised to keep in mind, however, that most others do not, especially those who receive a document whose preparation has been guided and informed by The Pyramid Principle.
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on 23 December 2011
This book is, surpringly enough, tough to read. Minto raises awareness about the delivery of presentations but her own delivery is far from effective. Instead of a consistent and fluent overview of her model she delivers it in a fragmented way making it difficult to keep the overview. Maybe one big, easy to understand case to present the whole model would have worked better. Her theory is fine but her examples are difficult and overall this book leaves me with a slightly disappointed feeling. A fine theory but a difficult to read book.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 October 2010
Minto's book reflects as much the organisation (McKinsey & co.) and industry (management consulting) she comes from, as it does advice on structuring writing and thinking. By that I mean that the writing style propagated is going to be directly applicable to management consulting, accepted well internally (i.e. within consultancies), while clients might continue to cringe at it. Having seen the system from both sides (as a consultant and a client), I can understand how.

The basic premise of the book is to introduce some standard consulting tools for structuring thinking and writing

- the pyramid principle of organising your thoughts and summarising up front (drawing the conclusion for the reader from the start) rather than at the end and presenting directive supporting arguments later;
- the situation, complication resolution (question-answer) structure;
- the MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) way of organising thinking.

All of these are occasionally useful - dealing with relatively straightforward problems in situations with little dynamic complexity, and exclusively for business type writing. While it is the natural inclination of a consultant to be strongly prescriptive (thou shall do this or that) and while inductive reasoning is preferable (as one can hide weak arguments better that way) this is not an approach that will always work with clients (or in a non-consulting corporate environment), and is certainly not something that will help you writing academic publications, or help you in fiction writing at all - in fact one needs to throw all the advice given here overboard before attempting any of these latter two.

In terms of style it is also very strongly reflects Minto's background - strongly prescriptive, not seriously considering any alternatives but hers, sloppy in literature research (taking the most convenient or widely read source, rather than the most profound or the original one) and relatively condescending - if you've ever worked in the industry, there is at least some entertainment value in being reminded of it (if you've just faced it from the receiving end as a client, I am sure it will produce groans).

On a final note, a book on clear writing and organising thinking logically, should read well and the points made should immediately jump out at the reader and stick with him. Here Minto falls short on both counts - having had several years of consulting behind me I still found it very tedious to follow (in spite of knowing the content relatively well) - if not exactly difficult (there is no attempt to make this a research supported scientific treatise), and the lack of chapter summaries at the end (and corresponding blankness on what exactly she was trying to convey in the specific chapter) directly negates the pyramid principle of writing for the application presented - a 'how to' guide.
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on 12 September 2000
This is one of the best book I have ever read regarding business writing. It has had an amazing effect on not only my writing and presentation development but also the structure of my thinking.
Given that this is a book on logical writing it is not the easiest book to read, but don't let this put you off. The method is used by the management consultants Ernst & Young and McKinsey and that is a pretty impressive petigree.
Altough the principle is straight forward the book gives you lots of examples to work through and will provide a useful reference for the future.
I first read this book when I relaised kept seeing it on the bookcases of managers in a number of companies. Make sure that you have it on yours.
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on 14 July 2012
This book is often recommended for creating business reports. That is , to some extent, quite a restricted use of it. A few years's back I started writing my engineering reports for my CTO and CEO that way and I suddenly got a much better engagement with them. Since then, I systematically coached my senior engineers to write that way. The response from them was incredulity first but when they started getting compliment from senior members of staff about the clarity of their thoughts, they saw the true value of it.

In a way engineers are ideal for applying this book: they have been trained to be logical, follow instruction and be rigorous. They now know they have not been to be to the bottom of an technical issue until they can reach this level of clarity. They also realize they do not need to inflict the same pain to the reader as what they had to go through to get to the right answer !

Unexpected difficult to read but very gratifying although requires iron self-discipline to apply the methodology.
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on 4 January 2002
As a practicing managment consultant, this book has been a guidepost not only for logical writing but as the basis of a hypothesis led problem solving approach. The rigour of her approach and the clarity that leads from it is an ideal to which we all should strive. I unhesitatingly recommend it to all who are in the business of solving problems and communicating insights.
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on 3 January 2013
I was given the previous 3rd edition as a part of a consulting course that I found extremely valuable.

I purchased this edition that has been reprinted this year. It is vastly improved in its structure with the addition of two new sections on Logic in Problem Solving and Logic in Presentation with additional appendixes. The techniques taught in this book are used by many professional consulting firms to create clear persuasive messages. Even if you are able to grasp a small part of the principles in this book your reports and presentations will be vastly improved.

Highly recommended.
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on 10 April 2007
Having read the reviews and details of this book I expected a lot, but sadly it did not live up to my expectations. It provides a structured frame work for presenting your ideas but that is about it. The book is badly laid out and at times difficult to follow. An example of this being comments like `the example below' when the example is actually on the next page! The examples, when you can find them, are not clearly explained or worked through. Frankly if the book was written using the method it teaches it clearly demonstrates short comings in the approach as a whole. The second half of the book focuses on Pyramid thinking. That is to use the approach to sort through your thinking much like the presentation technique introduced in the first section of the book. Little reference is made to this second section in the official Book Description and considering you lose half the book to it you may end up with less book than you expected.

It may be a personal preference but I find mind mapping considerably more effective. In fact I find mind maps so effective I always use them to layout documents and presentations. Whilst this book will give you a general layout to let your ideas 'move off the page' they won't make that move without adding other elements to the document such as considering the end audience or plain old good written layout - two points that don't get mentioned in this book.

All in all an expensive book that is not worth its price tag. Save the cash and buy a cheaper Mind Mapping book instead.
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on 26 October 2005
A superb book with many valuable recommendations and tips for writing well-structured business documents. The framework described in it is highly effective in any non-narrative writing and it is used in most top-class consultancy firms.
The book is also good for gaining some insight on hypothesis-led problem solving, both in the case of inductive and in the case of deductive reasoning. In this respect, it is full of examples that challenge unstructured and unorganized thinking and writing.
It may be however useful to complement it with other books on creative thinking (e.g. Edward De Bono's), mind-maps (e.g. Tony Buzan's), and psycho-linguistic approaches (e.g. NLP, TA, etc.)
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on 12 January 2003
My abstract reasoning ability has never really had the legs to organise some of the complex proposals and reports that I write for my clients. Every time that I've been prepared to admit the fact and consult this book it has never failed me - and it seems the clarity of my work is then so conspicuous that, as often as not, the client will congratulate me upon it. Thank you Barbara Minto !
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