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Numbered/Ordered Lists

When should a numbered or ordered list be used? Used appropriately they can add value and meaning. Used incorrectly and they only serve to clutter the page and potentionally imply a meaning that was not intended.

Consider the following example:

My grocery list:

  1. Apples
  2. Oranges
  3. Grapes
  4. Peaches
  5. Bananas

In this example, using an ordered list only serves to clutter the list and adds no informational value. When creating a list of items where order does not matter, use bullets and not numbers.

Another example of when not to use an ordered list:

I know how to:

  1. Design Webpages
  2. Program Webpages
  3. Write Content for Webpages
  4. Create graphics for Webpages
  5. Promote Webpages

Hmm, do you think your readers need help counting to five?

If you had hoped to indicate that you are more skilled at designing webpages, you failed. Your introduction fails to explain that is what you are doing. As is, this numbered list should have been presented with bullets.

This is how to use an ordered list:

The most important skills needed by webmasters:

  1. Designing Webpages
  2. Programming Webpages
  3. Creating graphics for Webpages
  4. Writing Content for Webpages
  5. Promoting Webpages

Now using numbers instead of bullets makes sense.

It is obivous to the reader that you think website design skills are more important than promotion, and you don't insult the reader by counting to 5 for them.

It is called an Ordered List for a reason

Ordered lists should be just that, ordered. The list should be one that requires some order, highest to lowest (like the third example), tasks to perform in a particular order (step 1, step 2, etc), or if the list is exceptionally long.

If the list does not use order to give meaning it is better to use a bullet list.

The one exception being a long list. What defines exceptionally long? If the reader might wonder 'How long is this list anyway?' while reading it, then it should be considered a long list and numbered. Numbering a long list allows the reader to see that it does have a clear starting and ending point, allows for easier recall of a particular list item, and makes it clear that all the items belong together.

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