Nowadays, the C-word is everywhere – online, offline, in text and in speech. It builds careers, corporations, and is practically an industry by itself. The C-word I’m talking about, of course, is Content!

Recently, I was asked to deliver a presentation on good writing practices to a mixed group of people from my organization. I can write fairly well but I’m not an expert on writing. To collate material for this presentation, I Googled tips on effective writing to add to my own experience and suggestions. I found all kinds of content related to best practices in writing and I was drowning in information.

There were just two things I could do: include everything or freeze. I froze.

I rummaged through my father’s bookshelf to look for something to take my mind off this problem. As luck would have it, I found a solution there. Of the many glorious books that gathered dust on the top shelf, I found a book titled If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? Intrigued by the amusing title, I began reading it while brewing some vanilla coffee on the side.

Authored by award-winning actor Alan Alda of TV drama M*A*S*H fame, this book among other things, had fantastic insights on how to make yourself understood. Alan Alda called it The Three Rules of Three.

  • The first rule is to make just three points about your topic. People can’t remember things that are too long. A presentation is useless if people can’t remember what you say. Ideally, Alda says, one should focus on a single point, but three is the limit.
  • The next rule he proposes is to explain a difficult idea in three different ways. That way chances are the audience will be able to grasp your point in one of the three ways that you choose. As a speaker and presenter, you will be able to relate to a wider set of people.
  • The third rule is to find three subtle ways to say the main point of the presentation. Repeat, Repeat and Repeat. If something is reinforced, people can remember it better and for longer.

With a large gulp of my freshly brewed coffee, I set to work. I tailored my content, bearing Alda’s tips in mind, reduced the number of slides and delved deeper into each point rather than making too many points.

I decided to begin my talk with the three main points related to structure, brevity and tonality of an article. Among these, I thought structure to be the most difficult. So, I decided to focus more on that. I included more information about the basic structure in any communication–introduction, body, conclusion. I decided to explain with the help of three examples what a good structure of an article is and included points on brevity and tonality. I highlighted that if the structure and logic of any article hold true, then brevity and tonality will come in automatically. Finally, I left the audience with an anecdote that highlighted the trouble a piece of communication with bad structure landed me in.

The final presentation was concise, to the point and I dare say, well-received. Since that day, whenever I begin to organize my writing, I always do it following the Three Rules of Three.


Explore topics such as Importance of Writing Skills, Process of Writing, What is Report Writing & Types of Report Writing from our Harappa Diaries blog section to build your skills for workplace success.

Srijeet Mukherjee is a Fulbright Scholar and has taught at the University of Montana. A curriculum specialist at Harappa Education, he loves languages and has edited bilingual dictionaries. He likes to cook and plays the uke.

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