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great numbered list from Robert Reich in The Guardian

A great example of a numbered list

I recently came across an excellent example of a numbered list.

You know, strawberry?

It was a political column published in, of all places, The Guardian online newspaper.

It’s clearly not a white paper. For one thing, it’s only 700 words long. And it’s an opinion piece in a newspaper, not a piece of B2B content.

scoop of strawberry ice cream
But it’s still a fabulous showcase for how to handle this format right.

You may not agree with former U.S. secretary of labor, now college professor Robert Reich, an ardent Democrat.

If the politics in this piece rankle, ask yourself, “How would I argue back?”

 

As for our purposes, we are looking at how he structured this piece, not the content.

And on that basis, I think it’s well worth studying.

Here’s where you can find it: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2022/oct/16/republican-talking-points-midterms-robert-reich

And if that link gets broken, you can download a PDF here.

Now let’s analyze how Reich masterfully uses the format of a numbered list—aka strawberry—to build a persuasive case.

Let’s start with an overview

This table shows all the key elements of a numbered list, and whether this column includes them.

 


Required in a numbered listIncluded in this column?
Title includes a numberYes: Three false talking points
Brief introductionYes (26 words)
Main body structured as a numbered listYes
Covers a set of concerns, points, or questions about an issue Yes: The issue is the 2022 midterm elections in the U.S.
All points expressed in parallel formYes: All points start "They claim..." or "They say..."
Brief summary at the endYes (35 words)
Call-to-action at the endYes: "Know the truth and share it"

 

So you can see that this column covers all the basics of a numbered list/strawberry flavored document.

Notes on the title

I imagine The Guardian editorial style guide prevented the title from starting with an Arabic number like this:

3 false talking points Republicans are spreading to win the midterms

That might work better for a strawberry white paper you want to pop in a list of search results. See this quick tip about using Arabic numerals in titles.

 

cover-Verizon-5-CDN-myths

 

I’ve written white papers that were analogous to this, with titles like:

7 Myths about [Whatever] and the Truths You Should Know

That’s a powerful title, since nobody wants to be take in by a “myth” or a “lie.”

This approach can be effective for a white paper… especially a smaller company trying to undermine a larger competitor.

 

 

The three main points

Now let’s consider each of Reich’s main points. He phrased them like so:

1. They claim that crime is rising because Democrats have been “soft” on crime.

2. They claim that inflation is due to Biden’s spending, and wage increases.

3. They say Democrats voted to hire an army of IRS agents who will audit and harass the middle class.

Notice how each claim is expressed in a similar way: “They claim” or “They say…”

Immediately after each claim, he skewers it with a single word: Rubbish. Baloney. Nonsense.

I find that very effective. It’s like saying, “Enough!” and sweeping everything off a desk with one arm.

To me, that’s a powerful way to start a rebuttal.

And notice how Reich sums up each section by saying, “Let’s be clear…”

This is a deliberate use of repetition for rhetorical impact.

It’s interesting to see how he uses this conclusion. After listing his proofs in a more objective voice, he uses “Let’s be clear” to swoop in and say what he really thinks.

In fact, in each section he accuses Republicans of lying. Them’s fighting words!

Where are the proof points?

But Reich doesn’t stop at calling these talking points trash. He offers lots of facts and logic to out-argue them.

Let’s look at the sheer scope of his evidence:

  • Claim 1: 7 links to counter-proofs
  • Claim 2: 1 link to counter-proof
  • Claim 3: 2 links to counter-proofs

So that’s 10 links to further evidence in a single column, far more than most political columns ever bother to include.

The middle section could have used a few more counter-proofs to bulk up the evidence there. But that section does rest on some pretty solid logic.

How is the logic?

This element impressed me most about this column. It’s very well-argued and it makes a lot of sense.

So let’s look at how Reich does it.

 

man holding pistol in public place

Talking point #1: Crime is rising because Democrats have been “soft” on crime

Every American has heard this one. It’s sticky, because no one wants to be menaced by thieves or murderers who know they will get off lightly.

Here are Reich’s counter-points:

  1. Crime is going up because there are too many guns out there.
  2. Cities led by Democrats spend more on policing.
  3. Criminal justice reforms have not created more crime.
  4. Crime is rising faster in states won by Trump in 2020.
  5. Murder rates are 40% higher in states won by Trump in 2020.

His conclusion: “Let’s be clear: It’s been Republican policies that have made it easier for people to get and carry guns. Republicans are lying about the real cause of rising crime to protect their patrons—gun manufacturers.”

By marshalling many facts and connecting the dots, I think Reich has demolished this claim. What do you think?

 

woman shocked by price of groceries

Talking point #2: They claim that inflation is due to Biden’s spending, and wage increases

Many families are struggling to buy groceries, pay the bills, and gas up their cars.

At the end of 2022, inflation is running at 8.8% in the U.S., the highest since 1980.

As with crime numbers going up, Reich can’t deny this is happening. He has to explain why that’s happening in a different way to take the heat off Biden.

Here are some things causing inflation, he says, that have nothing to do with the president:

  1. Post-pandemic shortages
  2. The war in Ukraine started by Putin
  3. The Covid lockdowns in China

Then he follows up with a counter-story to the Republican argument: Inflation is happening all over the world, not just in the U.S.

Besides, the U.S. pandemic spending started before Biden was president.

So it’s not Biden’s spending that is causing inflation.

And it’s not wages rising. Inflation is rising even faster. That’s why most workers are feeling hard-pressed.

No, inflation is rising because greedy companies are raising their prices to generate the highest profits in 50 years!

His conclusion: “Let’s be clear: The biggest domestic cause of inflation is corporate power. Republicans are lying about this to protect their big corporate patrons.”

Reich sets the issue in a global frame, pinpoints some key factors, and casts a lot of doubt on this Republican talking point.

 

American 1040 income tax form with calculator and pen

Talking point #3: They say Democrats voted to hire an army of IRS agents who will audit and harass the middle class

Nobody wants to be harassed by the taxman, so this is a powerful claim put forward by the Republicans.

Here are the facts Reich advances to counter it:

  1. The Republicans slashed IRS staff by 30%.
  2. The new funding will simply restore the IRS to where it was in 2010.
  3. The IRS says it will go after people making $400,000+ a year.
  4. High-end tax evasion needs more staff to police because ultra-wealthy people have “squads” of accountants and tax attorneys on their payroll.

His conclusion: “Let’s be clear: The IRS needs extra resources to go after rich tax cheats. Republicans are lying about what the IRS will do with the new funding to protect their ultra-wealthy patrons.”

In conclusion

So here’s the real story, according to Reich:

  • The bad guys are not Biden and his fellow Democrats.
  • The bad guys are the gun manufacturers who put more guns on the streets, corporations with profits at 50-year highs, and the ultra-rich who cheat on their taxes.
  • Republicans take money from all three and go to Washington to protect them.

That’s a pretty devastating critique, don’t you think?

In just 700 words, Reich demolishes three cherished talking points that politicians are trying to use to gain people’s votes. But what makes this piece powerful is its structure and repetition.

I’d love to see a rebuttal from a Republican perspective. But I think that would be  difficult to manage.

What do you think? Is this an effective numbered list?

 


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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 300+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. And named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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3 Comments

  1. Kenneth Hodge on November 16, 2022 at 5:45 pm

    Actually, these points are easy to refute. As an economist/academician he understands the malleable of statistics.
    1. Intentionally mixing crime burdened cities with the less criminal states to lessen its impact
    2. Inflation starts at home with the intentional shutting down fossil fuels. (A listicle in itself.)
    3. Soaking the rich does not raise revenue. There are not enough “over 400k” taxpayers to keep 87,000 agents busy.

    I don’t have time for this but it was a good read.

    • Gordon Graham on November 18, 2022 at 11:20 am

      Thank you Kenneth. You raise some great counter-points. This is how I think political debates should be conducted, with facts and arguments and calmness.

      And lest anyone suspects I’m promoting the Democrats, my next article will praise one thing Donald Trump usually does quite well in his campaigns: de-positioning the competition.

  2. Adrienne Parkhurst on November 29, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing this and breaking down your analysis! Every time I visit your website to get some tips for a project, I learn more than I expected!

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