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Do You Know These 3 Essential Writing Formulas?

4 min

Sometimes your head can be buzzing with ideas, but you can’t seem to get them written. It’s a good problem to have, but still… you have to produce. There’s an easy cure — one you can master in a jiffy. I’ll show you how. But first, let’s talk about those shoes of yours.


There are times when the job of writing feels like an unexpected day off. There are so many things you could do that you end up doing nothing — unless you look at your shoe collection for inspiration.

You could grab those Brooks Ravenna running shoes and zip through 5 or 10 miles at 5:15 pace. Or slip on the Ralph Lauren boat shoes and take your yacht for a spin. Then there are those fabulous dancing shoes you bought at Come il Faut in Buenos Aires — perfect for tango.

Different shoes, different experiences.

For a writer, choosing the right formula can be like putting on the right pair of shoes: your project will begin to flow.

The Formula of One

Writing about just one thing is harder than it seems, because you’re probably telling a story to convince the reader that your one thing is true.

Here’s the trap: an unsupported claim reduces credibility — ya gotta prove it. Even if your readers are predisposed to agree with you, they’ll need facts to bolster their own opinion.

So present evidence from credible sources. Testimonials can serve this purpose too. If all else fails, simply admit that your claim lacks proof, but it’s something you believe for reasons A, B, and C.

Tip: Don’t forget the final step — explain why your truth matters. Also called the impact statement, this step tells readers how your one thing is useful.

The Formula of Two

Sometimes you can reveal the truth of one thing by explaining how it differs from another. This is the compare-and-contrast formula you learned in schooldays, writing essays like “why frozen yogurt is better than ice cream.”

It’s especially handy in business writing. Use it to explain how your business differs from your competitors. Or to motivate a prospect to take action — “here’s what happens if you buy our product; here’s the risk if you don’t.”

Tip: People like to make up their own mind, so avoid the temptation to hammer your points like a roofer nailing shingles. If you get too heavy-handed, it can trigger resistance.


The Formula of Three

There’s something mystical about the number three; it signals that you’re attempting to summarize an entire topic:

  • Government: Legislative, judicial, and executive
  • Religion: Father, Son, Spirit
  • Values: Truth, justice, and the American way

And this post — three writing formulas — plus hundreds of jokes that begin with something like, “A minister a priest, and a rabbi were fishing in a boat…”.


Tip: To grab attention, put your points in 1-3-2 order — open with your most interesting point, close with your second-most interesting point, and sandwich your third point in the middle. Or to close with a bang, make the order 2-3-1.


Bonus: Formula of More Than Three

In business writing, you often see lists of products, features, services, testimonials, and clients. A list of more than three sends a subtle message that the subject is too large to wrap your arms around.

The standards of proof are a little less rigorous than in the other formulas, but that doesn’t mean you can be sloppy. Do your homework. Provide accurate data.


Tip: Use this formula to earn a top-of-mind position. That’s the psychology behind list posts and infographics: the reader can’t hold all those items in mind, so they have to hang onto your piece and refer to it again and again — a clever and effective way to market your brand.


Why Formulas Work

OK, so this post doesn’t exactly adhere to the three-point formula after all. But three formulas are easy to remember and it’s easy to remember the bonus formula. Right?

And that’s the whole point — making your writing useful, easy to read, and easy to remember.

Bonus tip: These formulas also work well at the level of sentences and paragraphs. Read the sentence above, beginning with “And that’s the whole point”; (see the formula of three?) Re-read this article and notice the formula of three throughout.

Bonus-Bonus Tip: Remember the basics — start with a promissory headline, engage readers with an interesting opener, and wrap things up nicely at the end.

And since I opened with a footwear analogy, would you like to know what kind of fabulous shoes I’m wearing? plastic Crocs, $19.95 at Target.

Try these formulas on your writing projects and see if they help. And if you enjoyed this article, please post a comment and share it with your writerly friends on Google-Plus.