• The three sentence rule works

    Have I ever blogged about my three sentence rule? A quick search suggests I haven’t. Fittingly, I’ll make it snappy.

    When I write to someone who is busy, in the hopes of encouraging them to do something (e.g., pay attention to an issue, blog post, publication, whatever), I give myself three sentences to make the case. Usually I can do it in two, and often just one. I keep editing my pitch until I get it to three or fewer.*

    Having been on the receiving end of many such pitches, I can say from experience that not enough people work hard enough at brevity. They should. It works. Here, from a randomized experiment by the UK’s financial industry regulator, is proof:

    But four other tweaks had substantial effects: first, cutting a paragraph of waffle that had helped to bury the message about the refund; second, pointing out that a five-minute phone call would suffice to make a claim; third, sending a follow-up letter. And twice as large as any of these effects was adding a couple of bullet points in bold at the top with the key message: you may deserve a refund; if so, call us.

    By the way, Twitter is a very good environment to practice brief pitches. Others include the email subject line or the headline of a blog post. Brief is good. Brief works. The devil is in the details, but nobody cares until you convince them they should.

    H/t Justin Wolfers.

    * I do permit more space for details, but make it clear those are secondary, like “details below” or “follow the link for more.” The first three sentences have to stand on their own.


    • That seems like the electronic equivalent of an elevator pitch. Makes sense.

    • It has long been my policy to contain business emails to text that will not require the reader to scroll their screen. Luckily I don’t deal with mobile users!

      If I must delivery something long I make it an attachment so the reader anticipates that they must devote more than a few seconds to processing it.

    • “Brevity is the soul of wit.” — Da Bard

      As a professor, I try to bang this home to my students all the time.