Want Your Writing to Flow Better? Try These Five Things.

[This is the latest weekly post from our intern, Tessa. You can find all her posts here.]

Typing

Did you ever read a letter from a nonprofit and feel that something was not quite right? Maybe you found it hard to read and weren’t sure why. When writing, you want your flow to be as “on” as possible. Here are five things to remember that will make your flow as smooth as possible.

1. Be Consistent

Inconsistency is one of my pet peeves. If you capitalize a noun in one place, make sure you capitalize that noun every time you mention it again. For example, The French Club shouldn’t evolve into the French Club or the French club throughout your piece. The same goes for abbreviations. If you introduce an abbreviation at the beginning of a letter, don’t start referring to it by its full name again half way through. People will get confused.

2. Don’t Liberally Toss Your Articles Around

I read a cooking article the other day that mentioned four things: The peppers, the onions, the carrots, and the garlic. Four words there are unnecessary. The whole thing is bulky. Keep it to peppers, onions, carrots and garlic. Only use articles like the, a, and an when they’re required.

3. Alliteration is Nice

If you can swing it, throw some alliteration into your piece. Clear, concise and compelling flows better than clear, brief and engaging. (By the way, you should be all of these things.)

4. Write in Threes

I’ve done a whole blog post dedicated to this topic, but I’ll summarize here. There is something about the number three that sticks in people’s heads and makes your writing or speaking sound better. If you have two and can come up with a third reason, adjective or example – do it. The same applies if you have four and can eliminate one.

5. Split Up Your Sentences

There’s no benefit to a sentence with three conjunctions, six commas, and endless words. When you can, split up your clauses into independent sentences. It will be easier to read and understand, I promise!

Three: The Magic Number

Power of Three

During my Catholic upbringing, I was taught that three is a magical number. It took three days for Christ to rise from the grave, God himself exists as three separate entities in one (i.e. the Holy Trinity), and any Catholic church has sets of three everywhere you look.

Religion aside, the number three is a magic number – in communications. Look at the paragraph above. I gave three examples of how the number three is relevant to Catholicism. Look back at previous blog posts I’ve written. You’ll see more often than not, when I use examples, or even adjectives, I use three. This isn’t a coincidence.

I won’t pretend to understand the psychology behind it, but there’s something about three that helps your language flow better, your message be remembered, and your listeners take action. There is evidence to suggest that anything more than three will overwhelm your listener – it’s too much information to take in quickly. On the flip side, two doesn’t give them enough evidence.

Let’s look at an example:

Mindy Cat copy

I love my cat Mindy because she has a soothing purr, adorable whiskers, and the softest fur I’ve ever felt.

I love my cat Mindy because she has a soothing purr and adorable whiskers.

I love my cat Mindy because she has a soothing purr, adorable whiskers, the softest fur I’ve ever felt and a sweet personality.

(I have to work Mindy into my blog posts whenever I can. Let’s try again, sans Mindy.)

She won the award for her clear, concise and compelling speech.

She won the award for her clear and concise speech.

She won the award for her clear, concise, compelling and competent speech.

What do you think about the above sentences? I know at this point it’s hard to be impartial and decide which one you would best remember if introduced to them individually. So you’ll have to trust me on this one. Or trust these guys: The New York Times, Business Insider, Forbes (Really, check out those links. There’s some great additional info there, such as how Thomas Jefferson used the rule of threes).

While this post is on language use, I will briefly mention that the rule of threes isn’t limited to writing and speaking. Designers use it in the number of colors and fonts they choose. Many websites (especially news sites) use three columns to report their stories. Our favorite books and stories have a beginning, middle and end.

See what I did there?