April 21, 2024

Making a List

No, this isn’t a Christmas post, though Santa has long known the power of lists in keeping you focused on what’s important. As I’ve looked at hundreds of college presidents’ op-eds over the past year, I’ve noticed how some writers are making effective use of lists.

What makes lists work as communication devices?

  • They cast a spotlight on your key points. Rather than having to mine paragraphs for those key points, the reader can zero in on what’s important.
  • They force you to prioritize and organize. In some op-eds, I sense the writer wandering without clear direction, like a lost driver. Lists are a bit like GPS for your writing.
  • They are scan-friendly: In today’s Twitter world, many readers don’t have the patience or time to absorb a lengthy narrative. Lists are the billboards for drive-by reading.
  • News media love them. Anyone who’s been in public relations beyond PR101 knows that lists are like catnip to editors. Send a news release titled “The Top Ten (Whatever),” and you’ve immensely improved the chances for pickup. The same principle applies to op-eds.
  • They’re concise. Microsoft’s much maligned (and misused) PowerPoint has one redeeming quality – it forces presenters toward brevity. In a way, lists are the parents of PPT.

Take a look at the op-eds by these presidents to see lists in action:

Lists. They’re powerful. Maybe I’ll try using them in a blog post sometime.

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