Jeffrey Lonsdale writes

by on December 6, 2007 at 6:42 am in Education | Permalink

I am wondering what you think of your expositional method in which you lay out different possible explanations and then mention which reasons are the most significant in your mental model.

This is a great rhetorical device for a blog, but is it how you approach communications with smaller groups as well? I can think of some reasons why it might work…

1. Listing many different possibilities causes you to look at the solution from different angles.

2. It gives your readers/listeners the impression that you have analyzed the problem from many different angles.

3. Bringing up possibilities and labelling them insignificant preempts critiques from those who disagree.

4. It is implicitly admitting that there are many possible contributory causes to specific effects. Not listing different possibilities is a sign of overconfidence.

5. Listing different possibilities reduces your bias regarding them as you think over which possibilities are the most important.

6. Your debate background is naturally kicking in and you instinctively try to "spread" your opponents. ( )

7. This is the way that you naturally think. Your list isn’t a deceptive rhetorical strategy, you are just laying out your thoughts in your head as they occur.

8. Successful lists are left as lists.  When the signal to noise ratio in the list is low, the list can be shortened and turned into separate paragraphs.

9. It doesn’t beat around the bush with long winded narratives and gets straight to the points.

I like points 1, 2, and 7 through 9 the most.

I am considering occasionally adopting this style of communication in my job as a global macro market analyst. 
The downsides I see of using it at work would be:
1. Lists might be perceived as having high noise to signal ratios.

2. The method can work for broad overviews of some subjects, but complexity is limited. I find myself using a second list in this email to cover the cons, something I’ve never seen you resort to in one post.

3. I would be broadcasting my ignorance if I left one of the "obvious" reasons off the list.

4. I would feel self conscious about parodying you, even if I was only trying to efficiently organize my thoughts.

I’m most worried about 2 and 3.
Those are excellent points, I might add:

1. Numbered points create more space on the blog page and make it more appealing to read.

2. Blog commentators can refer to numbered points quickly and easily, and

3. I did it once without thinking, and I enjoy repeating a practice for its own sake.

1 Mike December 6, 2007 at 7:47 am

Wow. Just wow.

Thought provoking and absurdist, all at the same time.

In any case, I really think that your #1, Tyler, has a huge affect on the readability of your blog. However, when too many numbered points are used in a single entry, the readability is diminished because the text becomes pattern-like and all of the numbered points tend to blend together in the reader’s mind.

2 Kent Guida December 6, 2007 at 11:14 am

I agree this is a very effective rhetorical device, and I would suggest the ideal number of items from both a visual and intellectual point of view is 4-6.

3 Ansel F December 6, 2007 at 4:09 pm

I like #2 from Tyler’s list.

4 Shakespeare's Fool December 7, 2007 at 11:04 am

Referring to points by their numbers is confusing. Trying to remember them by their numbers is a waste.

5 花蓮租車旅遊資訊 August 8, 2009 at 4:09 am


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