It has been a winning formula for decades – one of the most effective ways to communicate. It’s called the numbered lists approach to writing advertising, direct mail, booklets, brochures, even articles.

You’ve seen it many times before. Headlines that read:

  • 27 ways to save on postage costs
  • 9 pitfalls of direct mail and how to avoid them
  • 13 reasons why our health insurance will save you money

So what makes this approach so effective and so popular? Here are five reasons why:

1. They’re easy to write.
The numbered ways approach provides the writer with a built-in outline. You jot down every point you want to make – categorize, prioritize and presto, your writing assignment is half way there.

2. They’re easy to read.
Few people actually read the vast majority of the material we write. If we’re lucky, they scan it. And the “numbered ways” approach makes scanning very easy. Your audience will read the numbered subheads and perhaps some of the body text. And that’s pretty good.

3. They’re easy to remember.
Because everything is numbered, your message is more structured and easier for the reader to remember. When using the “number ways” approach, the reader is more able to visualize the key points in the order you present them.

4. They add credibility.
Putting actual numbers into your headline adds specificity to the message – which always builds credibility. Compare these headlines
How to save on postage costs
13 ways to save on postage cost

5. They heighten curiosity.
Numbered lists headlines are very effective in drawing your readers into the text if only because they are curious to see what follows. Even people who are familiar with your product or service will check your list to see if it matches theirs.

A few notes of caution:

1. If you are using the numbered lists approach over a period of time in a series of ads or direct mail pieces, remember the reader may not see (in fact, is unlikely to see) the entire series. If you cannot provide the entire list in a single communication, consider producing the full list in a brochure, booklet or flyer – then offering it to respondents.

2. Keep your numbers reasonable. If you are writing an ad that says “Reason No. 59,” you have pretty much max’d out your credibility. One can only imagine how trivial or watered down the reasons are if there are at least 59 of them.

As copywriters, we are always looking for ways to get the attention of our readers, to get them to read at least some of our key points and get them to believe what we’re saying.

Using the “numbered lists” approach is a proven way to accomplish this.


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."