What number of examples is ideal for persuasion?

Persuasive writing often demands examples. You can’t expect your reader to take your word for everything.

The right number of examples depends on the nature and complexity of your point.

One example may be enough to prove a simple point. More examples may boost your argument’s power. However, too many examples will overwhelm your readers, possibly causing them to stop reading.

When I originally posted this article, I ran a poll asking “What number of examples is ideal?” You can read the poll results below.

Poll results and more 

The most popular answer to my poll was “three.” I’m not surprised because I had the “Rule of Three” in my head when I wrote this question. A writing teacher told me long ago that when you’re writing, groups of three often produce the best results.

For more on the “Rule of Three,” read Brian Clark’s “How to Use the ‘Rule of Three’ to Create Engaging Content.” In his post on the Copyblogger website, Clark said, “I truly do believe that a set of three bullet points is the most effective use of the format.”

More recently, New York Times writer Susannah Jacob cited research suggesting that “When trying to persuade, four claims are one too many.” You can read more in “The Power of Three.”

Note: This post was updated on Jan. 19, 2014, to reflect answers to my 2012 poll on this topic and more recent research.