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Writing: Sentences & Paragraphs

Descriptive Detail: The Rule of 3


Today's Snack: Triangles have three "points," and today we're going to work with "The Rule of Three" in writing. So make yourself two pieces of whole-wheat toast, butter them, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar on top, and then cut each piece in half, diagonally. You should have FOUR pieces of triangular cinnamon toast, each with three "points." Mmmm! Enjoy a glass of apple juice, orange juice or grape juice - any of those THREE kinds of juices will go well!




M&Ms | Pencil and writing paper


Let's celebrate "The Rule of Three" in writing. Three legs make a perfectly-balanced stool; three points make a solid triangle; and three pieces of "proof" in a paragraph make it very convincing and easy to understand.


If you can present three descriptive details, examples or anecdotes to "prove" or expand on the topic sentence of a paragraph, you will have a more satisfying, complete paragraph.


Was it a horse?


Or a "snorting, pawing, magnificent" horse?





Was it a car?


Or a "shimmering silver Ferrari with sparking star rims"?



You can really bring your ideas to life with descriptive details, and three is a pleasing number of them to paint a picture that the reader can absorb.


Fewer than three descriptive details will probably not be enough to capture the reader's interest and satisfy the reader's urge to know about as much as you do about the idea or topic.


On the other hand, MORE than three descriptive details is likely to overwhelm the reader with too much information.


Don't include three details in EVERY sentence or paragraph, though. Boooooorrrrrrring! That will become obvious very fast, that you are straining to meet that rule.


Instead, figure out which sentence or paragraph in your paper or report is the most important. Then think of the three best points or descriptive details to include in it.


That will balance out your need to "prove" your main point with your reader's need to understand that main point.


In other words, "The Rule of 3" will help you include enough information to get your message across to your reader without making your reader scratch his or her head in confusion over what you meant because you didn't include enough descriptive detail . . . or SPEND THE REST OF HIS OR HER LIFE READING YOUR PAPER because you included TOO MUCH information.


Three is a nice, round number. So keep that in mind.


Now give everybody a supply of three M&Ms. Have everybody write a sentence with three descriptive details about the grocery store. Read your sentences aloud, and you can eat your three M&Ms after your turn. Once everybody has enjoyed "The Rule of 3," you can do it again and again, everybody contributing topic ideas, until the M&Ms are gone!


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 2010

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