Stop, Look and Listen

Here’s an interesting little tip to use in your creative writing: it’s called the “Rule of Three”. There have been many articles about it over the years and some make intriguing reading. The principle is that lists of three things are inherently satisfying, and can be more effective in getting a message across. On a wider scale, a three-part structure is a fundamental of comedy and even dramatic writing.

How do we use it in marketing? Try to keep your lists to three items. Two doesn’t give enough choice (unless you’re trying to make a simple yes/no argument) and more than three starts to make the reader work too hard. Make a point with the first item, build it up with the second, and break the thread with the third. The choice you want people to make might be the second (if your list was “good – better – bad”) or the third (“bad – very bad – good”), but you should always be able to get your lists down to three if you want to guide your readers.

Note: The Rule of Three, as used in dramatic structure, also works really well with case studies. Divide your article into three parts: the complication, the resolution, and the example.

Discussion

  1. David Stonier-Gibson, SPLat Controls

    I first learned this principle in connection with Margaret Thatcher. Apparently, she started out as a hopeless speaker. Then she deliberately got herself coached in order to make her run for high office. It worked! One of the things she learned, and applied, was the rule of 3. I use it myself quite a bit when writing sales materials. Dashed hard, though, to keep to 3 bullet points. I read somewhere that the limit there should be 5.

    Disclaimer: This is a personal view and does not reflect the views of my company. It specifically is not an endorsement of Thatcher’s policies 🙂

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