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White Paper World 9: September 28, 2022


  • Quick tip: Push your listicles to the top
  • Fresh content: 5 reasons why writers should learn about rhetoric
  • What I’m readingFarnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric
  • September Book Giveaway: Name that device!

Quick tip: Push your listicles to the top

AP Style and all the major writing guides say to spell out numbers up to nine when you’re writing copy or content, right?

But you really should break this rule when naming a numbered list (listicle).

Here’s why.

Consider two white papers, called:

—Three Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

—3 Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

The first title follows the recommended style, so it’s more proper, right?

Yes, but… it will appear lower in any search results.

That’s because computers sort numbers before letters. They’re programmed to do it that way.

push your listicle to the top

Don’t believe me?

Try it yourself: Sort your files in any folder with any software. Any file name that starts with a numeral will percolate to the top of the list.

Or see this report from the National Information Standards Organization:

Headings beginning with numbers written in Arabic numerals should be sorted in ascending arithmetical order before headings beginning with a letter sequence. (p.8)

That means in any list of search results, our two titles will show up in this order:

—3 Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

—Three Secrets of SEO You Must Understand

The second might even be pushed way down to page 3 or 4. That’s not where you want it, right?

So break the rule in your titles

Start the title of any numbered-list white paper with a numeral from now on: 3 Things, 4 Myths, 5 Hidden Gotchas, 6 Ways, 7 Strategies, and so on.

This one correction will push your paper up ahead of all the rest that follow that pesky style rule that was set down before computers were invented.

Being on top is as easy as 1-2-3.



Fresh content: 5 reasons why writers should learn about rhetoric

I never studied rhetoric in school. I never cared about it in my work.

And I never understood how much I was missing.

Until I realized that rhetoric means persuading an audience using words. Sounds exactly like writing content, doesn’t it?

Today I study rhetoric as a fun and useful hobby. And I think every other writer should learn more about it too.

This new article gives five reasons why… all the way from becoming a better writer to becoming a better person!

Read on to discover those reasons

From time to time, I’ll be reviewing lively books on rhetoric. In fact, see the very next item.


What I’m reading: Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric

When copywriter Steve Maurer told me about his favorite book on rhetoric, I ordered it immediately.

Farnsworths Classical English Rhetoric


And when I dipped into it, I agreed with him. Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric is a treat.

It was written by Ward Farnsworth, a law professor at the University of Texas.

The book has three main parts:

• Repetition of words and phrases
• Structural matters
• Dramatic devices

In each part, the author gathered together hundreds of examples from well-spoken British, Irish, and American writers and leaders.


You will encounter the American founding fathers, Burke, Churchill, Dickens, Lincoln, Melville, Shaw, plus countless others.

All told, the book includes more than 1,000 examples of different rhetorical devices, thoughtfully arranged in a helpful order.

The earliest examples, starting from around 1600, draw from Shakespeare and the King James Bible.

The latest examples cover writers and politicians just after WWII.

I find it a real pleasure to immerse myself in these passages to see how they work and then find a name to attach to them.

Why not use contemporary examples?

Because, says Farnsworth, “Today’s politician tends to be a creature of very modest literacy and wit.”

Skillful use of rhetoric requires moderation. And it works best to convey significant ideas.

Today’s leaders tend to lack any restraint, he notes, and use rhetorical devices to convey trivial information.

Their abuse has given rhetoric as a whole a bad name.

But don’t throw out the entire field just because some people abuse it.

If you want to learn more about rhetoric in a quick and easy way, this book is an excellent way to start.

And for more discussion of this book, see my longer review.


September Book Giveaway: Name that device!

Here’s a passage worth pondering from writer G. K. Chesterton:

An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered;
an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered.


Author G. K. Chesterton

In other words, much of our human misery is caused by our minds, simply because outward circumstances don’t meet our wishes.

Expectations alter perceptions.

And perceptions shape experiences.

So our expectations, as much as anything else, shape our experiences.

This quote is from an essay published in 1908 called “On Running After One’s Hat.”

You can find this passage in many online collections of quotable quotes.

But none of these sources tell which rhetorical device the author is using here. What do you think it is?

E-mail your answer to Gordon AT

I’ll send a free book to the person who submits the first correct answer (as given by Farnsworth).

You can choose either my book, White Papers For Dummies, or the Farnsworth book on rhetoric mentioned above.


That’s all for this time

If you liked this e-newsletter, please forward it to a colleague interested in white papers.

You can see all the previous issues here:

And if you have any comments or questions about white papers, please send them to Gordon AT and I’ll do my best to answer… maybe in my next article!

Good luck with all your projects!

Gordon Graham
That White Paper Guy


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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