The rule of three adds a sense of poetry and rhythm to your writing, making your content more pleasurable to read. But how do you harness the power of three?
This article covers:
Examples of the rule of three in Apple’s web copy
Is three really a magic number?
Examples of the power of three in headlines
Repetition and the rule of three
An element of surprise
Extra examples of the power of three
The rule of three in writing
Uneasiness has crept up.
Heather Fields has been a freelance copywriter for several years.
Her clients seem happy; and she knows her content is engaging, persuasive, and mostly free from grammar mistakes.
But she also senses something is missing.
A little “je-ne-sais-quoi.”
Does her writing lack flair? A sense of poetry? Is the rhythm out of sync?
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, Heather browses the web, thinking about buying a new MacBook. Or should she go for a Windows laptop?
She opens the Apple website.
And there she notices it …
The rule of three in Apple’s copy
Apple’s copywriters know how to harness the power of three:
Thin. Light. Powerful.
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Which makes it reliable, durable, and quiet.
Is that the magic power of three? Is that what’s been missing in Heather’s work?
Paying closer attention, she sees groups of three phrases on almost every Apple web page:
And with Apple Pay, you can unlock an entire world of online shopping that’s fast, convenient, and secure.
iPad mini 4 runs iOS 9, the most intuitive, advanced and secure mobile operating system in the world.
Which means everything you do — playing games, surﬁng the web, enjoying photos and videos — becomes more personal, immediate, and immersive.
Is three a magic number?
Copyblogger founder Brian Clark explains the power of three by referring to the three-act story structure and to the Three Little Pigs, the Three Blind Mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Musketeers, the Three Wise Men, and the Three Stooges.
It’s no accident that the number three is pervasive throughout some of our greatest stories, fairy tales, and myths.
~ Brian Clark
If you’ve joined a photography or drawing course, you may have come across the rule of thirds, too.
To create balanced pictures, don’t put a key feature in the middle. Divide your canvas in three equal horizontal and three equal vertical slices, and put your key feature on one of the cross sections, like this:
Three seems magical, right?
But what about the number two? Why do we have two arms, two legs, two ears, and two eyes? Isn’t two the smallest number required for creating symmetry?
And symmetry is related to beauty. Isn’t that magic?
As the New York Times reports, research has suggested that three arguments may be more persuasive than two or four. But the scientific proof for the persuasive power of three remains hazy.
Trios may or may not be more persuasive, but they can create a sense of poetry and rhythm, making our content more pleasurable to read and adding stress to a statement.
Pay attention to good writing, and you see threes popping up everywhere.
Examples of the power of three in headlines
Three adjectives, verbs or nouns can add extra power to your headlines:
- A Brief Guide to Fixing Your Old, Neglected, and Broken Content
- How to Stay Healthy, Happy and Combative in Impossible Political Times
- 37 Tips for Writing Emails That Get Opened, Read, and Clicked
- How to Run Your First Webinar (with No Skills, No Stress and No Budget)
Alliteration can add extra flair:
- The Underused Writing Trick That Makes You More Powerful, Popular and Persuasive
- 53 Freelancing Mistakes That Are Costing You Clients, Cash, and Credibility
And when you use a three act story for your blog post, you can also use the same three acts for your headline. For example:
- On Dying, Mothers, and Fighting for Your Ideas
- The Snowboard, the Subdural Hematoma, and the Secret of Life
Repetition and the rule of three
You may have heard repetition in writing is bad.
But that’s only true for accidental repetition.
When used with care, repetition can add stress and a pleasant sense of rhythm. For instance, note how the phrase “we can’t” is repeated three times:
As writers, our toolbox may seem limited. We can’t shout. We can’t use body language. We can’t even bang on a table to add weight to a message.
Following the rule of three religiously, however, becomes monotone and dull. So, use trios in moderation.
In the following fragment, for instance, the phrase “How often” is repeated twice and then the phrase “Life is too short” is repeated thrice:
How often do we read content that surprises and delights?
How often are we really inspired by a blog post?
Life is too short for monotone voices. Life is too short for wishy-washy writing. Life is too short to regurgitate ideas without adding value.
It’s time to have fun, infuse your content with your personality, and dazzle your readers with your words.
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Add an element of surprise
In all the examples so far, the 3 phrases seemed to form a logical trio such as powerful, popular, and persuasive; and old, neglected, and broken.
When you break your reader’s expectation of what’s coming next, you add an element of fun and surprise to your writing.
Here’s an example from Grace Dent’s memoir Hungry:
Dinner consisted of three stainless-steel terrines of mushy, lukewarm, delicious chips sat close to warm jugs of lumpy, powder-based gravy.
Mushy and lukewarm both have negative associations, so you’d expect a third negative word to turn up, but no. Dent breaks the expectation by introducing the word delicious. The abrupt change from negative to positive shakes expectations and makes readers pay attention.
Here’s another example from the same book; note that sketty means spaghetti:
Dad’s sketty is always, always delicious. Comforting, sweet and gloriously stodgy, because Dad boiled the pasta for at least thirty to forty minutes too long.
Gloriously stodgy is not a phrase you’d expect to come after comforting and sweet, right?
Veni. Vidi. Vici.
I came. I saw. I conquered. ~ Julius Caesar
The number three is the smallest number to create a pattern; and patterns please our minds.
So go ahead.
Use the magic of three in your content.
Add a dash of flair. A sprinkle of rhythm. And a dollop of poetic beauty.
Your readers will hippety-hop through your content, with a smile on their face.
Extra examples of the rule of three
From Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep:
Shaved, dressed and lightly breakfasted I was at the Hall of Justice in less than an hour.
He was a medium-sized blondish man with stiff white eyebrows, calm eyes and well-kept teeth.
The man was long-legged, long-waisted, high-shouldered and he had dark brown eyes in a brown expressionless face that had learned to control its expressions long ago.
From Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely:
It was a long narrow room, not very clean, not very bright, not very cheerful.
From E.B. White’s Here is New York:
The city has never been so uncomfortable, so crowded, so tense.
From Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World:
As Leila’s brain fought on, she remembered the taste of soil – dry, chalky, bitter.
From Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life Death:
A lull can be soothing, tranquilizing, and even restorative. It can be a time to retune and replenish. A lull can suggest a state of peaceful hovering, a prolonged mental daydream, a weightless interval.
From John McPhee’s Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process:
A piece of writing has to start somewhere, go somewhere, and sit down when it gets there. You do that by building what you hope is an unarguable structure. Beginning, middle, end.
Further reading on writing techniques:
The gigantic power of a tiny word trick
This humble writing technique can triple your persuasive powers
How to use word repetition to add music to your writing
What is the rule of 3 in writing? ›
Use three words that work together to convey a single concept. This is called a hendiatris and is especially useful for advertising slogans and speechwriting. Think, “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered) and “Friends, romans, countrymen,” both from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.What is the rule of 3 in persuasive writing? ›
Use the rule of three in persuasive writing
One of the best and simplest ways to reflect that in your proposal or business case is to make sure that you talk about them, or 'you', about three times as often as you talk about yourself ('us', or your company's name).
For example: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” “Friends, Romans, Countrymen”What is the effect of rule of three on the reader? ›
The “rule of three” is based on the principle that things that come in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than any other number. When used in words, either by speech or text, the reader or audience is more likely to consume the information if it is written in threes.What is the magic 3 in writing examples? ›
- How Words: When, Who, How, Why, Where.
- Example: After the long wedding (when), Marta (who) raced home in a flash (how) to feed her dog (why), who was waiting on the porch (where).
- Conjunctions: and, but, so.
- Example: I really like soccer.
Using the power of three allows you to change your audience in some way: inform them, inspire them, or amuse them. Focusing your message on no more than three significant points, and repeating them in different ways throughout your presentation, is certain to give your presentation the maximum impact.What is the 3 persuasive elements? ›
Aristotle determined that persuasion comprises a combination of three appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos. Anyone seeking to persuade an audience should craft his/her message with facts (logos), tapping an argument's emotional aspect (pathos), and presenting his/her apparent moral standing (ethos).What is the Rule of Three in business? ›
A stable competitive market never has more than three significant competitors, the largest of which has no more than four times the market share of the smallest.Is the rule of 3 a real thing? ›
The rule may sometimes be useful in determining the order of priority when in a life-threatening situation, and is a generalization (or rule of thumb), not scientifically accurate.What are the laws of 3? ›
The Rule of Three (also Three-fold Law or Law of Return) is a religious tenet held by some Wiccans, Neo-Pagans and occultists. It states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times.
What is the power of 3 in writing? ›
The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that a trio of entities such as events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers.How can you use Rule of Three to communicate better? ›
Or as Dale Carnegie says – “Tell them what you going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them”. Three takeaways – Regardless of the length of your communication, the delivery method or the time you put into it – people will only remember three things from it.How do you use the Rule of the thirds? ›
The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open. While there are other forms of composition, the rule of thirds generally leads to compelling and well-composed shots.What is the magic of the number 3? ›
In their eyes the number 3 was considered as the perfect number, the number of harmony, wisdom and understanding. It was also the number of time – past, present, future; birth, life, death; beginning, middle, end – it was the number of the divine.How do you write three in a sentence? ›
Numerals should be used for numbers 10 and above, but numbers nine and below should be spelled out. 2. Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. A number that begins a sentence should be spelled out rather than noted as a numeral, even if the number is below 10.How do you raise something to the third power? ›
In the language of algebra, x3 (read "x to the third power") means "x multiplied by itself three times", or x · x · x. To find the value of real numbers raised to exponents, just multiply the large number attached to the exponent (called the base) by itself the indicated number of times.What are the 3 rhetorical methods? ›
Aristotle taught that a speaker's ability to persuade an audience is based on how well the speaker appeals to that audience in three different areas: logos, ethos, and pathos. Considered together, these appeals form what later rhetoricians have called the rhetorical triangle.What are Aristotle's 3 ways to persuade? ›
Over 2,000 years ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that there were three basic ways to persuade an audience of your position: ethos, logos, and pathos.What are the 3 A's in business? ›
The three A's are for when you mess up—and that's why they're so hard for most businesses to swallow, because business people tend to like to avoid the hard part: apologizing. But here's where you get the magic formula, and it goes like this: acknowledge, apologize, act.What is the 1/3 rule in business? ›
Understanding the One-Third Rule
In particular, the rule asserts that for an increase of 1% in capital expenditures to labor, a resulting productivity increase of 0.33% will happen. The one-third rule further assumes that all other variables remain static. So, no changes in technology or in human capital occur.
What is the rule of 3 for productivity? ›
The Rule of Three is a very simple way to get better results with skill. Rather than get overwhelmed by your tasks, you get intentional about your three victories that you want to accomplish. Think in Three Wins. This puts you in control, now matter how chaotic things are around you.Can Rule of Thirds be broken? ›
Breaking the rule of thirds.
Pull back from your subject: “If your subject is going to be a really small part of the image,” photographer Derek Boyd suggests, “sometimes the best way to highlight them is to break the rule of thirds and put them almost dead center in the image.”
The human mind actually enjoys thinking in patterns. In fact, we naturally look for and create patterns everyday, in everything we do. An example of this idea is within our language where adjectives are often grouped together in threes in order to emphasize an idea.What is the simple Rule of Three? ›
The Rule of Three is a Mathematical Rule that allows you to solve problems based on proportions. By having three numbers: a, b, c, such that, ( a / b = c / x), (i.e., a: b :: c: x ) you can calculate the unknown number.Who invented the Rule of Three? ›
Aristotle made the observation that people find it easiest to remember three things. The rule of three started with his writing, “The Rhetoric;” In fact, in many of the areas where the rule of three is practiced (and there are a lot of them), it is referred to as rhetoric.Who created 3 laws? ›
three laws of robotics, rules developed by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov, who sought to create an ethical system for humans and robots. The laws first appeared in his short story “Runaround” (1942) and subsequently became hugely influential in the sci-fi genre.What does to the power of 3 means? ›
It means that you are using a certain number as an exponent. For example, to the power of three means that three is your exponent.What is the most commonly used Rule of Three? ›
The Rule of Three is a powerful technique or principle required for writing or speaking. It states that any ideas, thoughts, events, characters or sentences that are presented in threes are more effective and memorable. Hence, it is called the Rule of Three.How do you focus and rule of thirds? ›
The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, as shown below. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet. A rule of thirds grid.What disciplines uses the rule of thirds? ›
In photography, the rule of thirds is a type of composition in which an image is divided evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines, or along one of the lines itself.
How do you turn on the rule of thirds? ›
You can turn on a rule of thirds photography grid by going to Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid. Now, lines will be superimposed across your image to help guide you when you take a photo.What are the 3 rules of free writing? ›
- Keep your hand moving the whole time. ...
- Don't cross out and especially don't erase. ...
- Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. ...
- Lose control.
You can survive three minutes without breathable air (unconsciousness), or in icy water. You can survive three hours in a harsh environment (extreme heat or cold). You can survive three days without drinkable water. You can survive three weeks without food.What is the simple rule of three? ›
The Rule of Three is a Mathematical Rule that allows you to solve problems based on proportions. By having three numbers: a, b, c, such that, ( a / b = c / x), (i.e., a: b :: c: x ) you can calculate the unknown number.What is the golden rule of writing? ›
Remember the golden rule is KISS - Keep It Short and Simple. You will overload your sentence and make instant understanding difficult if you include unnecessary details which can be explained more fully later in the story.What are universal rules in writing? ›
- Revise. Nothing written is perfect the first time around. ...
- Proofreading: It's “Definitely,” Not “Defiantly” Proofreading and revising are different (see number 1). ...
- Structure Matters: Beginning, Middle, End. ...
- Don't Be Afraid of Change. ...
- Revise: I'm Repeating it on Purpose.
Throughout human history, the number 3 has always had a unique significance, but why? The ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, postulated that the meaning behind numbers was deeply significant. In their eyes the number 3 was considered as the perfect number, the number of harmony, wisdom and understanding.What is the magic three? ›
A series of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses is known as a tricolon in literary parlance. In intermediate classrooms, we call it the Magic of Three. Tricolons are easy to read, easy to say, and easy to remember.Can Rule of 3 be the same 3 words? ›
Meaning. The rule of three can refer to a collection of three words, phrases, sentences, lines, paragraphs/stanzas, chapters/sections of writing and even whole books. The three elements together are known as a triad.