Writing Tip of the Week: The Magic Number 3

Writing well is a matter of organization. If you are like me, part of your writing process is staring at a blank computer screen for a solid hour, trying not to freak out that you will never start typing. You have so many ideas…now if you could just find the words…the order…to tell a good story, educate your reader, or make a compelling argument.

That’s when I employ the magic number 3, a lesson I learned in school when I discovered my love of writing. Organize your thoughts…structure what you want to share...into 3. If you are storytelling, this could be 3 themes you want to develop. If you are writing a proposal, this could be 3 pieces of evidence that support your proposed solution. So why 3?

Right off the bat, 3 works because it’s memorable. An effective argument is one someone can follow to a logical conclusion. A good story can be easily retold and have the same effect. Most of us can remember 3 things someone shares with us and recall it to someone else. So consider this when making an argument…even something as simple as sharing your organization’s mission. You may have noticed Bottle Tree’s mission is to provide nonprofits with, you guessed it, three critical services.

Okay so 3 is memorable…what else? Well, 2 is a coincidence, 3 is a pattern. For example, say I’m writing a grant for a new community-based program. The funder needs to see that the program fits into the strategic objectives of the organization. You want to make the argument that this program will contribute to an overall goal the organization has. So what else is the organization doing, besides this new program, to achieve that goal? If you only list one other thing, that could be a coincidence. If you can discuss at least two other things the organization is doing to meet that goal, with the newly-proposed program being the third, that shows intention. A coordinated effort, employing various strategies and resources, to achieve a goal. 3 is on purpose.

Finally, 3 is balanced. A two-legged stool doesn’t work. 3 gives you an opportunity to fill out your argument. Have you examined various facets of a given issue? Have you represented the perspective of all stakeholders? Have you spoken to what diverse readers, all part of your audience, will care about most? 3 gives you an opportunity to include a final, but no less important point…maybe it’s not your strongest bit of evidence overall, but for a select group of your audience it’s what they care about the most. Arguments are rarely two-sided. They are often complicated. 3 allows this level of complexity…and balance.

So when putting pen to paper, organize your thoughts into the magic number 3. 3 is memorable, intentional, and balanced. And that’s 3 reasons why.