His name is Sean D’Souza. And I think he and I are rather simpatico. I once heard him comment that he actually enjoyed the thinking about and innovating in marketing as much as the moneymaking. (Mastery is actually one of those motivators that can be stronger than money — according to Daniel Pink in his book Drive. See the other two in this essay.)
As a result of his drive to think and develop mastery, Sean has probably made a lot less money than he could in marketing. But he does well for himself, regularly takes three-month vacations, and still has a lot of fun at work. Frankly, I think having a life you want — like Sean does — is far more valuable than just piling up cash.
Sean has a long history in marketing. I’ve heard from time-to-time that many of the world’s top marketing experts study Sean’s stuff. Why? Because it works, of course!
And it’s 100% consistent with what I do and how I work, plus has a few extra tools (like his testimonial questions) that can help me do what I do even better.
I also started listening to past episodes of his podcast, called Three Month Vacation.
And specifically, I had an ah-ha moment during his episode on Outlining Your Book: The Three Crucial Steps.
Sean reveals that he follows “The Rule of 3” in his books — and it can really apply to all writing and content creation…
So: What is “The Rule of 3?”
In short, Sean says that by writing your book around three big ideas, you’ll find it easier to write and your readers will find it easier to use.
Now, I’ve actually used odd numbers and specifically groups of three in a LOT of copywriting.
— When I write bullet points, I always like to have an odd number.
— The minimum is three, and…
— I often use three because they’re easy to digest quickly and form a nice break from the ongoing text.
Our mind seems to naturally be drawn to odd-numbered groups. And specifically, groups of three. I don’t know what it is, but it does seem to be a consistent quirk of human nature.
But this applies on a larger scale, too.
Shakespeare wrote most of his plays in three acts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. A setup, an escalation, and a resolution. Many modern screenplays are conceived in this triad as well.
Good speeches are delivered this way, too. Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
In the book and movie The Prestige, it’s explained how a great magic trick follows this three-part formula as well. The pledge, the turn, and the prestige. (I’ve written how this applies to email copywriting as well.)
“The Rule of 3” is simply the recommendation to follow this natural inclination we have to group things in threes. Sean recommended it in his podcast episode for outlining a book. But it can work for any and all how-to content.
How can you use “The Rule of 3” to create how-to content?
Now I’ll agree if you tell me that not all how-to content fits nicely into threes. In fact, in a big project I’m working on, I actually have 11 steps that I want to teach.
And yet, if I try, I realize that these 11 steps are only part of a bigger 3-part structure.
Let me explain. I’m actually demonstrating the structure I’m talking about right now, in this very essay.
— The setup: What is XYZ?
In this essay, I’m talking about “The Rule of 3.” And after a brief intro about where I got the concept from, I asked and answered the question, “So: What is ‘The Rule of 3?’”
Most good how-to concept is really made to address one core problem or challenge, even if there are a lot of component parts. This is your opportunity to zoom out, speak to the problem or challenge, give the benefits and rationale for following your method, and set up the actual teaching.
This is your first big idea.
— The escalation: How can you use XYZ?
You’ll notice that this section is under the question, “How can you use ‘The Rule of 3’ to create how-to content?” Here’s where I’m getting into the details of how to actually use “The Rule of 3.”
Like the escalation is really the core of the story, and often the longest section, the center teaching section of a book or other piece of how-to content will often be the longest.
This is your second big idea.
— The resolution: How to apply XYZ…
The next and final section of this essay is under the heading, “Here’s how to turn ‘The Rule of 3’ into better writing today…” The idea of this is very simple.
If you’ve just taught a concept, the next step for the reader or student to get the most out of it is to actually apply it. To carry it forward, beyond the learning experience (whether that’s a book, course, or whatever), and into their life. The final section directs them in how to do it.
This is your third and final big idea.
(Sidebar: I also think you can use three subsections in each of the three main parts — for 9 total. Or if you want to get really granular, each subsection can be broken into three chunks, too — for 27 total chunks. You don’t have to get stuck on three if the content demands otherwise, but it’s a nice natural flow!)
Here’s how to turn “The Rule of 3” into better writing today…
No matter what you’re writing about, whether it’s a long-form sales letter, a blog post, a book, a how-to course, or whatever else… Consider how to break your main content into three sections.
What setup will suck people into the content? How can you escalate in the middle? And what will you do at the end to resolve, sending them forward into the rest of their life with this new knowledge?
There’s a natural rhythm and rise-and-fall to it that reduces friction and increases engagement. It prevents you from getting over-complicated, or creating a forest of ideas that’s too tough to navigate through. It has an appealing simplicity to wrap your concept within “The Rule of 3” for easy consumption.
And as has been proven many times over, more consumption will lead to greater response, greater revenue, greater relationship, greater value exchange, and bigger breakthroughs!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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