The Rule of 3

Daniel Simon
3 min readJul 23, 2019
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of the Rule of 3?

You may not have heard of it but I’m sure you were mostly liked to have been exposed to it without even knowing. Most people have!

The Rule of 3 is a writing principle that suggests that information is more likely to be absorbed or memorised easily if it comes in groups of 3.

The Rule of 3 has its roots, as far as we know, back to ancient Greece with Aristotle who said that a story should be divided into 3 blocks: Beginning, Middle and End. In literature, The Rule of 3 appears in several stories even in their names, like the 3 Little Pigs, 3 Musketeers, 3 Billy Goats Gruff and so many others. That is also true to almost every movie structure until today that are based on 3 Acts. Even the famous French motto “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” applies the Rule of 3.

The Rule of 3 is a powerful concept when it comes to writing, speaking and presenting anything.

In Marketing

In marketing theory, advertising pioneer, E. St. Elmo Lewis laid out his Three Chief Copywriting Principles, which he felt were crucial for effective advertising:

“The mission of an advertisement is to attract a reader so that he will look at the advertisement and start to read it; then to interest him, so that he will continue to read it; then to convince him so that when he has read it he will believe it. If an advertisement contains these three qualities of success, it is a successful advertisement.”

At Apple

Steve Jobs, an inspiration to all designers with his memorable presentations, was the living proof at that time of how to master the use of this technique.

According to an article published at INC.com, former Apple Creative Director, Ken Segall, wrote in his book Insanely Simple that Jobs was obsessed with simplifying everything. In 1998, when Steve returned to Apple, he dramatically reduced the number of products at Apple’s to make it easier for the customer. It’s well-known among neuroscientists that people can easily remember up to three ideas or pieces of information. The longer the list, the less likely it is they’ll remember it. Steve just took advantage of that to market Apple’s products.

Here’s an example of how Jobs used to use The Rule of 3:

As a designer, I use the Rule of 3 in most of all my presentations and you should do that as well

Why use it?

According to an article published by a former Mckinsey consultant, Ameet Ranadive, here are three (obviously) key arguments that make the Rule of 3 very effective when it comes to convincing C-level executives with limited time:

1. Your argument gets their attention and is memorable

2. You are forced to choose the 3 most important reasons

3. You sound more structured, confident and decisive when you speak

When you start your arguments with: “I’ve got 3 reasons why we should do this,” you sound like you know what you’re talking about. Your response comer across as backed by structured reasoning, which makes your arguments stronger. Besides that, it also gets people’s attention right away because most of us have been hard-wired to expect things in groups of 3.

Senior executives or business partners are no exception to this rule. They have very often lots on their minds, and when you break down your argument into 3 chunks, you are more likely to get their attention and have your arguments glued to their heads more easily.

How to use it?

You can adopt the Rule of 3 in nearly every presentation or conversation to simplify the choices for your listeners or to help them follow up.

The use of The Rule of 3 also forces you to boil your arguments down to only 3. If your audience is only going to remember 3 reasons anyway, present them with the 3 most important ones even if you have to cut down some things.

The Rule of 3 works because it’s simple, catchy, and very easy to remember

--

--

Daniel Simon

Lead Product Designer, Creative, and writer wannabe. I’m passionate about creating accessible, intuitive, and engaging user experiences. http://danielsimon.dk