Write with numbers to guide readers, listeners

Whether they’re creating an email newsletter, live presentation or printed report, writers can use numbers to help readers and listeners understand and remember.

By numbering your points, you are providing a framework in which audience members can place and store information. Numbering ideas will also help you, as a writer, organize your thoughts. Here are some tips.

Memorable triad

Organize your thoughts into three numbered points, in this order:

1. the most important point

2. the least important point

3. the second most important point

How do I know this works? Although I don’t recall the book title or authors I learned this from, years later I easily remember these three points.

I have edited people who resisted reducing their thoughts to three, so we’ve opted for five or even 10. But do you remember all of David Letterman’s top 10 Lists, the 15 steps to setting up your new computer or all the individual components of any large thought pack? Probably not. Fewer is easier to remember.

It’s often difficult for detail-oriented experts to grasp the big idea or translate their vast volume of work into a few simple concepts. If you’re one of these people, try this:

1. Write all your important points.

2. Decide on three general headings

3. Place each point under one of these headings.

The power of one

Many people are happier with even fewer than three points to comprehend and recall. In fact, many branding pundits insist on just one idea. I’ve also heard speakers exhorting the audience to remember just one thing from their hour-long talk. I remembered.

Of course if you’re twittering or anything else that limits your length, you’ll have to become adept at sticking to one main idea.

Even if you feel you need to organize your thoughts around more points, remember you want to link everything to the main point you want your readers to remember.

You can help your audience organize and remember information in other ways, such as subheads and acronyms.  As with numbering, they all boil down to distilling and framing the details.


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