Posted in Content on 03 June, 2018
“Omne Trium Perfectum”
– A Latin phrase that translates to ‘everything that comes in three is perfect.’
If you have ever explored folklore and folktales, you would notice how powerful the number THREE is!
Three blind mice, three wishes to grant, a three-legged money toad, the Holy Trinity, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Musketeers, the three witches in Macbeth, the Three Wise Monkeys, Uncle Scrooge’s Huey-Dewey-Louie and hey, don’t we run our races on the count of 1…2…3?
In Pythagoreanism Three is believed to be the first true number. This is also the number which forms the first stable geometrical shape – the triangle. Newton gave us the three laws of motion. We have three points of view – in the first person, second person or third person. The fonts in which we write come in three sizes – ‘small, medium or large.’ Our traffic lights follow a universal code of three colours – red, yellow, green. We confer awards in sets of three – first, second and third. We also talk about three perceivable spatial dimensions. And, the fitness freaks would know how important it is to keep you ‘body, mind and soul’ healthy.
Basically, three is everywhere!
In writing and rhetoric, too, the significance of this number is deeply felt. In Dramatic Literature the construction of a drama requires adherence to the three ‘Unities,’ – unity of action, unity of place, and unity of time. Also, when you write a story or an essay, it needs to have an introduction followed by a body and conclusion. Even this requisite dwells on the idea of ‘Three.’
Writers have often leveraged this language technique to create masterpieces. Remember Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol where Ebenezer Scrooge is told he will be visited by three spirits – The Ghost of Christmas Past, The Ghost of Christmas Present, and The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?
We get to see the usage of this rule even in George R.R Martin’s Game of Thrones. Remember when Rob marries Talisa? These are the initial words of the vows they utter: ‘Father, Smith, Warrior. Mother, Maiden, Crone. Stranger’ – sets of three inside an entire set of three!
Moving on to History, you would notice how some of the most powerful statements revolve around the concept of Hendiatris – a figure of speech used to express a central idea using three words or phrases. Julius Ceasar’s ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici,’ the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius,’ Abraham Lincoln’s ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ or even the proverb ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ – all depict the power of ‘Three.’
Even in photography, something called the ‘rule of thirds’ is widely followed to capture the perfect image. A photograph is horizontally and vertically divided into three segments such that important elements align with these lines or their points of intersections.
Check the image below. There’s a slice of yellow lemon that floats in the teacup. It is eye-catching not only because of its colour, but also because of how it has been strategically positioned in the photograph.
By the way, did you know the human eye is trichromatic? In other words, our retina has three receptors which play a role in perceiving colours. Such is the power of three that even the universe has fallen for it. We have the ‘heaven, earth and waters.’ We know nothing beyond. Even life comes full circle in ‘birth, life and death’ and defines a person’s ‘past, present, and future.
This is no accident. Three is magical.
The Question is, why Three?
Write-ups, speeches and expressions that come in sets of three are considered to be more impressive and persuasive. Content designed using the Rule of Three is believed to be more readable, comprehensible and retainable.
The answer lies in the way the human brain processes information. It is arguably the world’s most advanced pattern-recognition machine with raw-computing powers that are second to none (unless we build one that can compete). And, when we talk about ‘patterns,’ we should remember that the minimum number of elements needed to form a pattern is three.
Also, humans have this innate psychological behaviour of seeking a middle ground. The third value is always a mediator that connects two opposing values. If the first value attracts a person and the second value engages him, the third value has the power to convince him. It’s as if we are conditioned to favour anything that comes in sets of three.
We are more likely to accept choices that are presented in threes. Say, you have to decide between two flavours of ice-cream – vanilla and chocolate. Someone comes and tells you to choose between the two flavours. You’d still be confused. And then comes another with a middle ground – choco-vanilla? Now you’d be relieved. But, given a fourth choice, say, strawberry, you’d be confused yet again. This concept of ‘visual thinking’ is popular in the world of marketing and advertising as well.
Creating Engaging Content using the Rule of Three
Because we are discussing the Rule of Three in creating engaging content, here are three quick tips to apply to your writing:
1. Segment your write-up into three parts – beginning, middle and end.
Now, this is typical of any article. However, the Rule of Three isn’t as simple as it seems. The beginning should be more than just a preview of the entire content. The end has to be more than just a summary of it.
You have to apply this rule separately in these sections as well, taking care to list the top three heavy-hitters rather than a whole bunch of important points. For the middle section, choose any three adjectives that define the purpose of your write-up best and work around them to create a visual story.
This rule is effective even while writing website copies. Consider this example:
Also, if we cast aside the idea of word-heavy write-ups, here’s a classic example of a six-word flash fiction of extreme brevity that uses the Rule of Three to the utmost:
A tear-jerker, isn’t it?
2. While writing headlines and taglines use nouns, verbs and adjectives in sets of three.
Consider these headlines:
Care, Compassion, Communication: Top three Effective Elements of Nursing
How to Live, Laugh, Love when you are Feeling Down
How to buy a Phone that’s New, Unlocked and Cheap
Also, consider this tagline:
Need we say more?
3. Repeat words or phrases in your sentences thrice.
That’s not bad advice. That’s just a tricky trick. Unintended repetition is sloppy. Intended repetition is catchy. Here’s the explanation:
Sloppy repetition: “If you compare cricket to football, you will find cricket is more exciting than football.” Ugh!
Catchy repetition: “I want her to laugh. I want her to love. I want her to live.” Wow!
So, now that you know there’s something called the ‘Rule of Three,’ which, when followed, can help you create engaging content, start thinking in threes.
That’s the truth!
The whole truth!
And nothing but the truth!
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