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3 reasons for numbered lists

My Monday post "12 Signs Your Tech Leadership is Obsolescent" received a lot of Twitter play. I'd like to think the brilliance of the writing style and the revolutionary ideas were the reason for the attention. But I'm afraid it is something far simpler.

The post had a number in its title.

Here are three reasons, every piece of writing should have a number that helps describe it:

  1. A number gives the reader hope that the writing is finite. When the title is "The 5 Reasons You Shouldn't Pick Your Nose - And the 3 Surprising Reasons You Should," the time-pressed know that once eight reasons have been given, they can move on. In order to have this impact, I'd not go above 12 in the title. Who'd read the "137 Reasons Why ..." for anything?
  2. Many numbers have an association of mystical importance. Through much of history, numbers (3, 7 and 12 especially) have connotations of power. Think of the 3 Wishes, the 7 Samurai, or the 12 Days of Christmas. Don't just use numbers - use the really good numbers. A "Top 10" list just sounds better than a "Top 9" or "Top 11" list. Why is that?
  3. A number signifies selectiveness. If I write the "7 Best Reasons You Should Read This Blog," there is an unstated but powerful implication that there are so many good reasons for the argument that I had to actually narrow the choices. Rather than try to fabricate the last couple as is usually the case.

The old grammarian in me flinches when I see numbers of 10 and under displayed as numerals instead of written out (4 points of the compass instead of four points of the compass). I suspect the character limitations of Twitter and text messaging is changing this (usually ignored) rule.

Tomorrow, "The Top Ten Ways of Technology is Accelerating the Rate of Civilization's Decay."

Or more likely, "The 5 Biggest Reasons I Need to Get My Christmas Shopping Done."

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