How to Use the ‘Rule of Three’ to Create Engaging Content

How to Use the ‘Rule of Three’ to Create Engaging Content

Reader Comments (119)

  1. You said – ” You might also find that list posts with three items will draw people in, because you’ve boiled things down to the essence with no fluff. ”

    Can you elaborate on that just a wee bit further, because I’m not sure what you mean, I’d like to see it in action and I think I can take action on it 😉

    It’s the “…list posts with three items…” that I’m looking to grasp a bit better.

    I read it to mean – ” The Three Best ways To…”

  2. Yeah, that’s what I meant. People will tell you that 7 is the ideal list length now, but I’ve had a lot of luck with three-item list articles too.

  3. Great post buddy- it spoke to be through the practical use that 3 is better than four and so on- i didn’t really think about it but you hear it for years at least in church I do- the three points. Instead of two or four. More than three and i’m lost.

    Beginning, Middle, Ending. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Okay thanks Brian.

    But if I start using it and end up getting too many readers, crash my blog and cry crocodile tears, it’s all your fault 😉

    BTW – Great post.

  5. Brian – thanks for the simple reminder of the rythym of 3’s – we use it in face to face presentations and need to incorporate them into our blog more. Thanks for all the “real world examples” – Cyndee Haydon

  6. Triangles… Stools, cheerleaders’ pyramids, and bridges. Solid effective balance. And really great compositional dynamics. Three primary colors. Small, medium and large forms. Point, line,and plane . All essentials to making good art. Just read Kandinsky.
    It is so very exciting for me, a painter, to find these rules of three work across disciplines.
    As always you are brilliant, effective and timely.
    Thanks Brian.
    All best , Jan

  7. Brian:

    This got me trying to figure out why? and it is so obvious that I never saw it before.

    There is only one shape that can be made with three lines once you have determined their length….a triangle (only mirror images or rotated images based on how you chose the pieces). As the number of lines grows beyond 3, the shape of the images can change based on the sequence in which the pieces are chosen.

    Thus three is easy to remember and relate to because it is a constant.

    That is why a triumvirate of power tends to be stable.

    Now most readers will think I’m a nut but I get it….


  8. Thanks for sharing the insight.

    I will definitely keep the rule of three in mind when writing…sounds like it will keep me on the straight and narrow.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. As a young PR account executive, I was taught the rule of three for effective presentations.

    It is:

    1. Tell ’em what you are going to tell ’em
    2. Tell ’em
    3. Tell ’em what you told them

    It’s a simple but powerful way to help people to retain the main points of any presentation. Probably more useful in training young PR account execs, its a good way to ensure the presenter has a clear point to make!

    So tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; tell ’em what you told them. Rather than sounding repetetive, use some of Brian’s many refinements to reinforce the message and add interest.

  10. Great post Brian. An extensive study on somem popular fairy tales did conclude that number 3 has been repeatedly used. It has Spiritual as well as sexual connotation. Good to see how this number can be effective in writing. An insightful post indeed.

  11. Hi Brian, I really like your site. Its very informative. Just one question — How does one actually start a blog? Is there software or something?

  12. I guess that’s why I use three adjectives when describing a noun?

    And this is what this article is: brilliant, effective, and to the point. 🙂

  13. This is a great article because if you print it out and cut out each line and line them up and do a 45 degree angle at each point that expresses a double possitive, it creates a triangle. 3 sides.

  14. Okay here’s a somewhat related explanation for the beauty of the number three:

    3 points determine a plane, which means when you build a chair, it’s bound to be more stable with 3 legs than with 4 (or any other number). 😛

  15. Very, very, very interesting.

    I knew 3 was a good number, but you just went out and proved it.

    I was wondering – are 5 and 10 in any way comparable, because people use “Top 5” and “Top 10” lists a lot. It would be interesting to compare which is most effective.

  16. I can’t argue with you…it’s an excellent point!

    One thing I’ve been taking more notice of and trying to implement is blogging in series. Write a post but leave them with a cliffhanger. Lol. Make it a 3 part series!

  17. Excellent article, Brian. I have no idea how I’ve never thought about or recognized the Rule of 3 before (at least, not on a conscious level). Very simple, yet incredibly effective.

    I probably already employ this in my writing, without even realizing it. But, now, I’ll be making a more conscious effort to make use of it.

  18. Great insight Brian!

    I went out and start hunting on things that obeyed the rule of 3. Some of the things that came to my mind: new picture frames with 3 photos, hotel decor arrangements, movie trilogies (LOTR, Matrix)!

    like your insight on 3 is the minimum number of creating a pattern. I also find 1-2-3 step process more appealing and friendly.

  19. In line with the Rule of 3 , here is one more … odd numbers work better than even. This applies to bulleted phrases, lists, etc. (exception are variations on 10.)

    I’ve often though that the reason odd numbers work better is that they create dissonance and therefore force more interest. Even numbers connote stability and balance and make us feel more peaceful – not what you’re looking for when you’re looking to engage your prospect/customer.

    (I don’t have any research to support my thinking on this but if someone does, lay it on me!)

  20. The number three is truly fascinating! I love how you’ve explained the concept with so many fun-to-read examples.

    And I’m liking some of the theories in the comments here, lol. The rule of three is also very big in photography — look up the “rule of thirds”. A photo is often much more interesting when it’s broken up into thirds rather than halves.

  21. Kinda funny. I was checking out many magazine headlines and behold there were tons that use the rule of 3. Here are a few examples.

    Here is one from Self: Shrink A Size Naturally – No Starvation, No Fads, No Regain

    One from Mens Health: New Year, New Body, New Life.

    A third from MORE (my favorite): Moms in menopause, daughters in puberty, dads in hell

  22. This is a great post. Thank you. I knew bits and pieces from experience regarding the use of 3 throughout time, but you did a great job of pulling it all together. I felt kind of good because I am just finishing up a 3-part post.

  23. It works and I think that the 3 is a good basis for adding more depth and layers in writing. It isn’t the only method for writing structure but it is one that works.

    Thanks for the post brian.

  24. 3 is the real formula. We teach the children when telling a story: start at the beginning, then there is the middle and finally the ending.
    How soon we forget. You are so right. Keeping it simple is the way forward.

  25. Another place the number three turns up is in the “Rule of Threes” that is taught by survival experts.

    These simple to remember rules remind you how long you can survive in life-threatening situations:

    * You can survive 3 minutes without air

    * You can survive 3 hours without shelter

    * You can survive 3 days without water

    * You can survive 3 weeks without food

    By learning (and applying) the “Rule of Threes” your chances of surviving a life-threatening situation go up. A lot!

    Here is a good introduction to the “Rule of Threes” for setting survival priorities:

    I have used the “Rule of Threes” as the inspiration for my “ISV Survival” blog ( where I cover the life-threatening challenges that independent software vendors (ISVs) face in the shift to Software as a Service (SaaS).

  26. Sadly there is a downside to this rule of three. When you think about the way organizations use taglines the recent trend is to find three descriptive words, plop some periods between ’em, and call it done.

    Three. Word. Tagline.

    Sure it is comfortable. And it might even sound memorable… but the only thing memorable about it is that there are three words, not what those three words stand for.

    Just one thought from a guy that writes names and taglines for a living.

  27. This makes total sense. There is a rule in proposal development that works without fail. In reading a detailed proposal, the brain naturally picks up the first line of a list, then jumps to the last, so classically, put the most important point in the 1 position, the 2nd most important point last. Then, it seems, the eye jumps to the 2 position, then next to last, then back up to the 3rd position. A pattern, until the eye and brain give up. So to make a more solid proposal, make only 3 points, that way, the reader can more effectively scan, reading point 1, 3, and 2, and then free to move to the next subject. Guaranteed to expedite the review, and probably increase success in marketing.

  28. Father, Son, & Holy Ghost,
    which amounts to
    the Creator, the Creation, and
    everything the Creation isn’t.

  29. Classical music symphonies are in three movements / fast-slow-fast. We juggle three balls. The waltz (most graceful for couples) is written in three beats per measure. I Ching is composed of trigrams. Japanese gardens use three rocks not four. The triangle is a sound structure, like a roof. Catholics have their holy trinity. And when ya “rack em up” to play pool you use a triangle.

  30. Thanks for this concise, educational, and interesting explanation. I’ve noticed in my own writing I am drawn to three examples of most things. It’s nice to know it’s not a personal foible, but an ingrained part of our brains. This also carries over into graphics where there is also a “rule of thirds”.

    Maybe this is also why three beers seem better than one. Six-packs, (2X3) and 24-packs. (8X3)

  31. That’s right Jeff, ignore everyone that knows more than you do and is trying to help you. That’s why you’re not a successful writer or graphics designer.

    Don’t bother thinking about it, you’ve obviously given up thinking a long time ago.

  32. Great observation. I’ve noticed when I write articles and I want to give examples or a series I’ll write the intro . . . use a colon: blank; blank; and blank.

    I find it an efficient way of writing. I also use “including: blank, blank, and blank.”

  33. And then there is the final #3 grouping that many encounter:
    READY . . . AIM . . . FIRE!

  34. Thanks Brian, for another action-provoking post.

    Incidentally, Churchill never referred to “Blood, sweat and tears”.
    He said: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

    (Many years ago, my teacher explained that “toil” was forgotten because you can SEE blood, sweat and tears, but you can’t see toil.)

  35. This is great and makes a lot of sense.

    The number 3 is also used in Boy Scouts, many eastern religions (as well as the trinity) and I think there is merit in it. Any numerology people want to comment?

  36. classic storytelling: beginning – middle – end

    but mathematically, “three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern” is incorrect; that would be two. Just ask any binary number.

    but two is boring, and not nearly as memorable as three!

  37. Excellent post. I like how you hit home with the memorable patterns from the childhood stories that were read to us. Another potential reason why many of us can relate to the number three is its popularity in some of the world’s religions. I had stumbled upon this website a little while ago –

  38. I love this post………and can ‘t forget

    A cord of three strands is not easily broken…..

  39. i know its old, but Lol @Jeff . @james u DON’T get it do you!!!

    Now we need an article on how to effectively use punctuations, emoticons, etc.

    • Yeah Andrew, I get it. Obviously, you don’t have a clue.

      You are basically a moron with no understanding of anything. Who ties your shoes for you? Mommy still does it?

      Why an article on punctuation? You wouldn’t understand it anyway.

      • Is it just me or has this conversation turned out to be an infantile and egotistical smack down. Language is the currency of thought. Right now I don’t see much thought, just one ups man bulls**t. If there is no wisdom, civility or human respect in the thought process, the currency only amounts to play money. (did ya notice my rule of three)

        The thread of the original topic has been going on for a few years now. Every so often I get an email with a new entry. Some more interesting than others. But, adult civility was kept intact. Come on folks. Give it a rest or exchange email addresses. Take this to the back alley where it belongs.

  40. This was the first time I have read your blog WOW, you got me.
    this kind of insight stirs my mind.I shall be a regular visitor from now on.

  41. Well, Lionel said she was three times a lady. GMC talked about the Rule of Three in their commercials. I like this. I often use three in articles because you can dive in a little deeper without creating an extremely long post.

    I like the idea for storytelling too

  42. I am an artist. The rule of three being esthetically appealing is very effective. I use a lot of artificial flowers and if I try to put 2 or 4 items, flowers or otherwise, on a piece of my artwork, it just won’t look right. There’s a balance to it. Isn’t that interesting that it’s also true of writing? And as a blogger, the preference for paragraph length is three sentences. That’s not a hard and fast rule, but it certainly is a guideline worth following, as often as possible.

  43. Hey Brian,
    It was a perfect timing to come across your post today. I was reminded to go back to the basics, to set priorities and then narrow them down and rank them A, B, C. Simple process and it helped me to get re-focused.

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