20/20 – Day 14: 20 reasons why lists do/don’t work

Writing all these posts with lists of 20 are both a boon and a pain.  Should you write a list? Use the following two lists to find out.

10 reasons why lists are great

  1. They focus the mind.
  2. They’re easy on the eye.
  3. They challenge, inspire and satisfy.
  4. You can add or subtract from them with ease.
  5. It’s a less stressful way to start an essay.
  6. Comparison lists work well side by side.
  7. They’re as succinct or complex as you want them to be.
  8. They work well as blog posts!
  9. They aid collaboration and team work.
  10. They’re a quick test to see if you have enough points, or if you should rethink something.

10 reasons why lists aren’t so great

  1. They’re linear.
  2. It’s difficult to make points overlap effectively.
  3. Lists are often incomplete in themselves. Further explanation may be necessary.
  4. Can appear laboured, scraping the barrel.
  5. Can go off the mark, especially if facing Point 4…
  6. You risk repetition.
  7. A list is more a tool than a full answer.
  8. You risk repetition.
  9. If you commit to a particular number (like I am here) you may get stuck, spoiling everything.
  10. Er…better find someone to help me out…
    Okay, any list that claims to be definitive or appears as a set of rules is not necessarily as helpful as it first seems. I’ll give the final point over to Molly Young in Intelligent Life:

“Can anyone doubt…that an author’s rules are as specific (and exclusive) to her as her DNA? And yet, if we can’t learn anything new from such lists, why do we find them fascinating? Their value, I think, is mainly an affirmative one. At their best, writing rules remind us of the things we already know about ourselves. The advice that rings true, in other words, is the advice we already follow.”

As a bonus to the above lists, here’s Atul Gawande (author of The Checklist Manifesto) explaining why we need checklists:

“On the one hand they are memory aids. If you go shopping, a list doesn’t tell you about every single step you take to the grocery store, it reminds you of what you might forget. The second aspect of a checklist is that it can help you perform well when you are working with many people on a complex procedure.”

So there we have it. Are you an avid list writer?  What sort of lists do you like to use?