9.30.2006

10 Reasons Why

A little lighter (and yes, tongue-in-cheek) fare this time. Back to the usual soon.

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Argue with Just a List of Reasons

1. It's overdone. Digg and Reddit are plastered with 10 reasons why this and 10 reasons why that. This argumentative structure is also often used as a rhetorical crutch because it's so easy to write with, thus tainting any argument so expressed with a suggestion of incompetence.

2. It's unprofessional. They may make good set-ups for jokes, but you don't see the NYT making arguments with "10 Reasons Why" articles, do you?

3. These arguments tend to only include said 10 reasons- which doesn't leave room for counter-arguments (in other words, yes, using a list of reasons to argue has some good things going for it- but nothing that fits into a list of reasons).

4. The "10 Reasons Why" argument implies a timeless quality about the argument. I guarantee any argument laying out precisely 10 reasons for anything isn't timeless.

5. I like- even prefer- itemizing an argument into distinct parts. But there aren't 10 primary reasons for everything. Maybe there are 11 reasons for something; maybe there are 7. More likely, there are 3 reasons, with 2, 3, and 6 subpoints each. Flattening and then stretching or compressing an argument to fit into 10 points muddies things up and is a terrible disservice to ones readers.

6. The form of these articles lead them to be overly-focused and they usually fail to situate what they're talking about in a larger context.

7. People are attracted to reading these articles, but in most cases only because "top 10" lists somehow exploit a cheap trick of human physiology to grab readers' attention. Maybe that's fine for some people- but to me and likely others it's insulting. I am the captain of my attention- if I wanted my attention jerked around I'd watch television ads or unblock those "punch the monkey" flash ads.

8. It often leads to people partly-restating a previous point or making up spurious reasons in order to get to the "magic" 10.

9. The structure of "10 Reasons Why" articles doesn't really lend itself to themes or threads of reasoning which go with multiple points. It's a terribly artificial argument structure- nothing more than a crutch- and an argument will likely suffer because of it.

10. Writing a blog post or article, even if it's an argument, is always a journey. I often sit down to write about a topic and end up thinking about something completely different. When someone follows the "10 Reasons Why X" formula their subject is so well-defined that many detours of thought get closed off- and they might miss thinking about a tangential topic that's much more interesting than their initial project.

8 comments:

Martijn said...

=)

Amam said...

Totally true! About everything. But then again...Making top ten lists over anything kicks so much ass.

A suggestion about a future topic! Seti@home or any of the other shared processing research projects. That technology is awesome.

Mike said...

Thanks for the comments, guys.

I'll look into writing about distributed computing projects like SETI. After my next article. :)

Anonymous said...

NY Times doesn't use them, but supermarket tabloids and Cosmo do.

It's about pandering to the lowest common denominator.

John Koetsier said...

1. So
2. sick
3. of
4. endless
5. top
6. ten
7. lists
8. engineered
9. for
10. digg

Amam said...

I wonder why no one has commented on the fact that you've made a top ten list why top ten lists are bad. :P

(tongue in cheek and it's pretty obvious, I know, I know)

Drew said...

Hooray, Amam got the joke.

drusillah said...

"8. It often leads to people partly-restating a previous point or making up spurious reasons in order to get to the "magic" 10."

I COMPLETELY agree with you on this!! I've seen it so many times on articles, I don't know how they can keep doing it and get away with it. I've mostly stopped reading such things.