Learn how to strengthen your emails with the Pyramid Principle
Writing effectively can feel overwhelming when you have to communicate a large amount of information. With information now being sent through so many channels like smartphones and social media, the average person’s attention span is stretched thin. So how do we, as marketing consultants, adapt to these shortened attention spans when we have important emails to send? The answer lies in the Pyramid Principle, a powerful tool to structure email communications for all kinds of clients.
The Pyramid Principle was developed in 1978 by Barbara Minto, a consulting veteran, and is an effective structural and content-centric approach to writing that prompts readers to take action while also telling the story. It is based on the notion that the human mind automatically sorts information into distinctive pyramidal groups or buckets when trying to understand large amounts of information or convey a complicated request.
Here’s how to get started:
- Outline the situation: What are the key facts your readers will need to know?
- Outline the complication: What is the problem you need your readers to be aware of?
- Ask the question: What do you need from your readers to solve this problem?
- Answer the question: What is the outcome or solution you’re hoping for?
Once you have your answer, you are ready to begin. Craft the email starting with the answer and then support it with your arguments and evidence. Each level of the pyramid should support the level above it, meaning your evidence should support an argument, and your argument should support an answer (see Figure 1 below). By arranging your content into distinct buckets, it allows your audience to mentally check things off as they absorb information.
Let’s put this to the test. Say you’re throwing a birthday party for your daughter, who adamantly wants a Frozen-themed cake with very detailed specifications. The party is in one week and the cake will need to feed 20 people. After following your daughter’s steps to gain clarity on the situation, complication, question, and answer, you can then write your request. Take a look at the drafted email below:
I have a request for a Frozen-themed cake to feed 20 guests with a one-week turnaround
Please see my specifications below:
- Rectangle shape
- Blue frosting
- White, edible glitter to look like snow
- Figurines of the characters placed on top
- “Happy Birthday!” written in cursive font with white frosting
- Chocolate cake
- Vanilla frosting
Thank you so much,
This example leads with the solution—the Frozen-themed cake and when you need it. Then it divides the evidence—appearance and taste—into buckets for the reader to easily follow.
This approach is especially useful if you’re communicating project details to clients, requesting materials from your team, or summarizing action items for a meeting. The Pyramid Principle serves anyone who creates content or delivers communications. It is the secret weapon to hooking your audience, encouraging action, and maximizing everyone’s time.
Approaching your writing with the Pyramid Principle in mind makes large amounts of information appealing to rational thinkers who thrive on lists or spreadsheets. Not only does this process give readers the right amount of detail, but it also alleviates stress on the writer. Instead of providing any unnecessary history of a project, it keeps the focus entirely on the solution that you need. With a little practice, you can reduce the amount of time spent crafting lengthy emails and instead focus on the most valuable details.
Want to learn more about constructing top notch communications to reach your audience? Drop us a line and let’s discuss how we can get your messaging and storytelling to the next level.