Thinking in threes: when my worlds collide
Some of you may know I lead a second life. For those who don’t, here it is: I’m a history nerd and love to attend history events and work on history papers in my leisure hours.
It’s dorky, but true.
Most of the time, my love of history operates separately to my writing and editing work at Currie. Yet, occasionally the two come together in interesting and rewarding ways.
The Australia Historical Association’s annual conference in Adelaide was one such time.
As part of the conference, I was lucky enough to be included in a workshop run by history greats Penny Russell and Richard White.
Richard shared with us his ‘rule of three’, which can be applied to any history paper, but which has relevance to my professional role in corporate communications, also.
In its most basic form, Richard’s ‘rule of three’ is this:
- Put forward no more than three major parts to your argument
- Use three pieces of evidence to back up your major claims
- Use no more than three paragraphs in your introduction
His argument is that it’s difficult for your audience to keep in mind more than three things as they read your work. Three pieces of evidence, moreover, is convincing. And an introduction that runs more than three paragraphs does become unwieldy.
Like any rule, there are exceptions. For instance, when presenting your paper (or in our case, writing a media release), three pieces of evidence can be too much – just the one can be perfectly fine.
Richard’s ‘rule of three’ translates well to the case studies, conference presentations and the other communications materials we prepare at Currie on behalf of clients. Although we’re not writing academic papers, our clients – like historians – are seeking to make a point.
Unlike academics, however, we have far fewer than 8000 words in which to do it.