Frameworks for Your Ideas—Lists

I’ve posted about the power of frameworks (ways of organizing your ideas) in creating content that people can remember and use. Many idea entrepreneurs rely on a particular framework—problem-solution-process—for this purpose.


However, you do have other options. One is the almighty list.

Including lists in your commonplace book can help you manage projects and extend your memory. Lists are also useful for writing articles and creating tables of contents for books that you want to publish.


Tons of books are based on lists. For example:

  • The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey
  • 42 Rules of Marketing by Laura Lowell
  • Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina
  • 101 Ways to Love Your Job by Stephanie Davidson
  • The 48 Laws of Power and The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene.

Also consider the many books based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The table of contents for Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, for instance, is simply a list of the Steps and Traditions, with a chapter devoted to each one.

How to create effective lists

Test your list. When you organize your content as a list, is some essential material excluded? Do you find yourself trying to force a fit to the list? If so, then use another framework.

If you can structure your material as a list without compromising your content, however, then go for it. The numbered list is sometimes maligned as simplistic. Yet when done well, this framework is intuitive for both readers and writers.

Remember that certain numbers appear to be favored in book titles (don’t ask me why): 5, 7, 10, 12, 99, 100, 101. Again, don’t force it. If a different number suits your content, then use it.

Tell people whether your big list of ideas or strategies is unordered or ordered. If it’s unordered, then it’s OK for people to begin with any chapter or section and choose their own path through your content. They can read or listen to any section or chapter in any order.

If your list is ordered, however, then your book is based on steps that come in a specific sequence. When this is true, let people know that you’d like them to read or listen to chapters or sections in the order that you’ve laid out. Otherwise, readers will get confused—and doubt your credibility.

Turn each list item into a headline. The purpose of a headline is to attract attention and draw people into your content. Give as much care to the wording of each list item as you do to the title of a book, article, or presentation.

Copywriters specialize in writing headlines, and their techniques are useful for any writer or speaker. Start with these suggestions from Neville Medhora, Jeff Goins, and Ray Edwards. They’ll lead you to more.