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How to plan a numbered list

A numbered list is the fastest and easiest flavor of white paper to create.

And it’s the easiest to place in a trade magazine or website, or to repurpose as a blog post.

Readers love numbered lists because they’re light and lively, short and simple.

For a vendor, a numbered list is a good way to throw some FUD on the competition. That’s easy, with a title something like, “Six Questions to Ask Before You Buy Servers.”

what is a white paper?Sounds great… so how to get started?

To plan a numbered list, you need to know 5 items:

1. The audience
2. The purpose
3. The call to action
4. The key tips, questions or points about the issue
5. A compelling title to engage your ideal reader.

Let’s look a little closer at each of these items.

1. The audience

The intended reader for a numbered list can be anyone interested in the topic.

You will likely want to narrow this down to help target the white paper. If so, try to identify your ideal reader as specifically as possible:

  • company type including size, sector and region
  • demographics such as education, age and job title
  • psychographics like experience, interest and stress
  • technographics such as how the content will be accessed: desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

For more, see Know your audience for a white paper.

2. The purpose

Do you want to educate prospects? Cast FUD on competitors? Train your sales force on how to overcome objections? Block sales of competitors? Help close sales?

A single numbered list can’t do everything. Pick a top priority and stick to it.

3. The call to action at the end

A numbered list does not always contain an explicit call to action, especially if it’s a shorter document.

But you should always have a clear answer to this question: What do you want your ideal reader to do after they read your white paper?

You can wrap up a call to action in one sentence: “To find out more about how you can gain [key benefits] with [product or company name], [do something].”

Or you can express this as a negative: “To find out more about how to avoid [key pain points], [do something].”

4. The key tips, questions or points about the issue

Don’t think you can skip any research or polishing; writing an effective numbered list still takes effort.

First, list all the points that you could include. This will take some thinking, and perhaps some discussion with your team members. Stop when you reach 15 or 20; that’s more than enough for one numbered list.

Than arrange your items in some order that makes sense. Review and rearrange as needed, drop the weaker points and make sure each item is expressed in parallel.

For more, see Five tips on writing better bullets.

5. A compelling title

A numbered list needs a lively title. Your title may be all that a prospect sees of your document in a list of search results, so it’s got to pop out.

A good title clearly conveys the number of points in the list, who it’s aimed at and the provocative content.

Naming a target job title or the ideal reader’s size or type of business are good approaches.

For more on this, see How to write a white paper title.

Writing a numbered list can be lots of fun, especially when you have a good plan to work from. When time is short, you can use these tips to whip up a numbered list.

To find out more about numbered lists, see How to pick the perfect flavor for your next white paper.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ 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 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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