TL;博士- it’s worth reading Barbara Minto’s金字塔原理。
Although it’s not universally true, I’ve found that as folks move into more senior roles, they spend a lot more time writing. The nature of these documents vary depending on your role–strategies，演示文稿，备忘录，公告，email等等 - 但您的书面文字经常成为您最重要的沟通媒介。我很幸运地花了一个很多时间写作over the past decade, in addition to attending a liberal arts college, so this shift has generally has been something I’ve enjoyed.
然而，我在各种角色工作的一些人比说话更舒适的写作。对于这些人来说，变得更加熟练的作家可以是拖累他们的career progression, and I’ve been looking for ways to帮助人们提高他们的写作。
The biggest challenge is simply that I’ve developed my writing in a very unscalable way. My high school and college environments required a heavy writing load, and each assignment was edited and critiqued. That feedback along with a decade of writing on this blog improved my writing, but it’s not very practical advice to give someone looking to improve.
When I first started thinking about helping folks improve their structured written communication, I readthis article on the Pyramid Method, which summarized Barbara Minto’s金字塔原理: Logic in Writing and Thinking, and over the past few days I spent some time working through it.
“The demands of logic and the limitations of a reader’s ability to take in information dictate that this structure will always be pyramidal in shape — hence The Pyramid Principle.”
“Formally separating the thinking process from the writing process, so that you can complete your thinking before you begin to write.”
This quote is also a great expression of something I couldn’t previously articulate. It’s very clear when something is confusing, but it’s not always clear how to give someone feedback on why, and I think this ordering bit helps.
“By deliberately forcing yourself to think first and write later in the manner it suggests, you should be able quite dramatically (a) to cut down the time you normally need to product a final draft, (b) to increase its clarify, and (c) to decrease its length.”
The idea of optimizing for “time to final draft” as opposed to “time to first draft” is a really important one. I’ve found that I typically write a single draft for most things I write these days, but only start writing once the ideas are solidified.
This is also, fwiw, how I write blog posts now. I plot out my main points, write the introductory hook, and then iterate on both points and hook until the post’s structure comes together. This lets me iterate on structure cheaply until, only moving on to writing the core content once it’s stabilized.
I couldn’t find a great quote to pull, but Minto goes on to argue that there are two generaly kinds of issues with folks' writing: style issues (which are very hard to fix, require repetitive training to address, like wordy sentences) and then structure. Structure is much easier to fix.
“All mental processes apparently utilize this grouping and summarizing process, so that the information in a person’s mind might be thought of as being organized into one giant conglomeration of related pyramids.”
Well, not justonepyramid, but rather pyramids of pyramids!
“Controlling the sequence in which you present your ideas is the single most important act necessary to clear writing. The clearest sequence is always to give the summarizing idea before you give the individual ideas being summarized. I cannot emphasize this point too much.”
Bottoms up thinking is good for developing your idea, but bad for communicating it. This is why decoupling into thinking and writing is useful. (It’s fine to think in writing, just don’t try to reuse the thinking bits for communicating to others. Very similar to“plan to throw one away”from Fred Brooks.)
“You can define in advance whether or not you have built the structure properly by checking to see whether your ideas relate to each other in a way that would permit them to form pyramidal groups. Specifically, they must obey three rules: (1) ideas at any level in the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them, (2) ideas in each grouping must always be the same kind of idea, (3) ideas in each grouping must always be logically ordered.”
In addition to being good for checking your own writing, these three rules strike me as remarkably good tools for providing structured feedback for others on their writing.
“There are only four possible logical ways in which to order a set of ideas: deductively, chronologically, structurally, comparatively.”
“The pyramid dictates a rigid set of sub structures that can serve to speed the discovery process. These are: the vertical relationship between points and sub points, the horizontal relationship within a set of sub points, the narrative flow of the introduction.”
The idea of vertical and horizontal relationships for the body of a document and then a narrative introduction are pretty powerful, and in retrospect I’ve seen this done in some of the stronger professional writing I’ve seen.
我绝对notthought about writing this way, but I can see how this very clear structure of echoing questions and answers that a reader would have makes quite a bit of sense.
“A great value of the pyramid structure is that it forces visual recognition of this vertical relationship on you as you work out your thinking. Any point you make must raise a question in the reader’s mind, which you must answer horizontally on the line below.”
If some of these quotes are coming across as a bit too abstract, the diagrams in the book help illustrate the pyramid point a bit more than these exerpts do.
Another point emphasizing why it pays to start with the conclusion. If folks already agree with your answer, let them stop reading immediately, since they’re not part of your target audience.
This is the formula for an introductory statement, which is then gone into a bit more detail in the following quotes.
“1。Draw a box. This represent the box at the top of your pyramid. Write down in it the subject you are discussing.”
“2. Decide the Question. Visualize your reader. To whom are you writing, and what question do you want to have answered in his mind about the Subject when you have finished writing?”
Understand what the issue being discussed and your reader.
Often you already know the answer you think is best, so supply it.
“4. Identify the Situation. Next you want to prove that you have the clearest statement of the Question and the Answer that you can formulate at this stage. To do that, you take the Subject, move up to the Situation, and make the first noncontroversial statement about it you can make. What is the first thing you can say about it to the reader that you know he will agree is true — either because he knows it, or because it is historically true and easily checkable?”
This is expanding why a decision needs to be made. There are far more things that we could choose to focus on than we have time to invest, so it’s important to be able to justify focusing on this topic.
“6. Recheck the Question and Answer. The statement of the Complication should immediately raise the Question you have already written down. If it does not, then change it to the one it does raise. Or perhaps you have the wrong Complication, or the wrong Question, and must think again.”
This is a final gut check that your overall document makes sense.
Much of the time you already know what you want to say when you start writing, but sometimes it’s not the case. In that situation, the formula for uncovering your pyramid is:
“1。List all the points you think you want to make.” “2. Work out the relationships between them.” “3. Draw conclusions.”
Then it supplies some tips on how to develop arguments:
“1。总是先自顶向下。”“2。使用Situation as the starting point for thinking through the introduction.” “3. Don’t omit to think through the introduction.” “4. Always put historical chronology in the introduction.” “5. Limit the introduction to what the reader will agree is true.” “6. Be sure to support all Key Line points.”
Then the book moves on to an introduction to logic. There are four rules you can use to critique a logical argument:
“1。You can question the general order of the ideas in a grouping.” “2. You can question their particular source in your problem-solving process.” “3. You can question your summary statement about them.” “4. You can question the prose in which you express them.”
“Most writers don’t state the implications of their groupings. As we have seen, their tendency is to tie together ideas that have a general rather than a specific relationship, so that nothing is directly implied. Consequently, they are forced to cap them with what I call intellectually blank assertions.”