It's true that sometimes readers like the tidiness of an article that offers a specific number of tips or tricks—to get wine off a white shirt or to please your man.
But an editor mustn't get carried away. (In fact, not getting carried away is perhaps an editor's main skill.)
This morning on a PR trade publisher's website I am offered:
20 tips to help you proofread like a pro
15 tips to refine your email etiquette
10 everyday words that are often misused
5 corporate writing tips from Winston Churchill
One word or two? 6 pairs of commonly confused compounds
10 surefire ways to fail at Twitter
6 SEO changes to immediately make to your site
The No. 1 PowerPoint rule every presenter should ignore
5 PR lessons from Jackie Kennedy Onassis
5 ways TED catapulted into a global brand (and how you can, too)
4 ways to make your logo effective
While readers aren't actually tallying the numbers, this teetering stack of tips must give the reader a heavy feeling of duty, if not also a sense of the absurdity of bundling the whole wild and hairy world into infinite groups of tidy lists.
Perhaps tomorrow I'll offer 3 ways editors can make sure they vary their headline techniques so to avoid self-parody.