Editing Principle 04: Rule of Odds

When dealing with text that’s visually arranged — that is, on a page or screen — an odd number of elements works better than an even number of elements. One page is better than two pages. One paragraph is (usually) stronger than two. Three paragraphs tend to be more persuasive than four.

Why is this? I’m not sure. I do know just enough about art theory to know that an odd number makes for a more pleasing composition, one that holds the viewer’s attention longer. People also experience them as more calming, which is interesting. This is true for floral arrangements, piles of magazines on your coffee table, fish in a bowl — most anything. Text is no different.

Whether this deeply-ingrained preference is due to nature or nurture, I again couldn't tell you. But once you’re aware of it, it helps you make faster decisions about what and where to cut. Because editing, at its best, involves not just the meaning of the text but awareness of how it looks on a page, and not only the words but the spaces in between.

(Funnily enough, I’m at a stage in this work where I “hear” paragraph breaks when listening to audio as well. I wonder if you could find a pattern between highly-rated podcasts and those that obey some of these rules of visual arrangement—like, if you saw the script/transcript typeset. Could be interesting.)