Basic Tech Literacy: Don't Manually Number Lists
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
I have many pet peeves. (Yes, it's true, and I understand it sometimes makes me insufferable, but such is the price to pay for producing excellent work). But there is one pet peeve that will make me audibly groan at my desk, every time. That is: manual numbering of lists. In this day and age, failure (or refusal) to use automatic numbering is beyond unacceptable; it is outright unprofessional. What am I going on about you ask? This.
Imagine you are writing a letter that contains a list. That list goes 1, 2, 3, and 4. If you are typing away in a word processing software, do you actually write 1 - Description, 2 - Description, 3 - Description or do you use the automatic numbering function? If it is the former, you need to never do that again, ever. If you do the latter, thank you, please feel free to write a list for me any time.
Why am I so hung up on this? Well, for starters, because failure to use automatic numbering necessarily means that any edits to the order, number of items, or length of the list will trigger tremendous editing in the form of manually re-numbering items in the list. Why is that a problem?
First, manual numbering is a tremendous waste of time which only generates more waste of time down the line. And in a law firm, time is both limited (there are only so many hours in the day) and money (we bill for our time). When a manually numbered list is edited, every other time has to be re-numbered. This happens if there is an addition, a deletion, and even a re-ordering. Don't be that person; just don't.
Second, it creates multiplying opportunities for human error. People double count and skip numbers; automatic numbering functions don't. To ensure that your list has the right number of items, labeled correctly, in the same order, use an automatic numbering function. Just do it.
Third, automatic numbering functions add formatting to the lists. Typically, at the very least, an automatic numbering function indents and adds a "hanging" format to the list items. This sets the list apart from the rest of the document, adding clarity and white space, increasing readability. This, in turn, improves the overall quality of the final written product.
Fourth, and most importantly, manual numbering triggers unnecessary billable time which should not end up on a bill, but which usually does. Let's be clear, though, it is unethical to bill a client for time spent re-numbering manually numbered lists when there is a function that does it automatically. Billing clients in these situations is charging clients to fix our own mistakes, which is not allowed. More importantly, it is charging our clients for failing in our duty of tech competence. (For more about what that entails, check out the groundbreaking White Paper on the Ethical Duty of Tech Competence by Ivy Grey at WordRake).
So what should you do? Check out our related video for practical demonstrations.