Copy-wise: Follow this simple rule for lists (and don’t be a copy bro)

A blurry photo of a hand holding a pen, with an illegible list of items with check boxes next to them.

Copy-wise: Follow this simple rule for lists (and don’t be a copy bro)





Copy-wise: Follow this simple rule for lists (and don’t be a copy bro)


Tony Hallett
Managing director

Tony set up Collective Content in 2011 so brands can more easily become publishers and tell stories. This built on 15 years in media, from reporter to publishing director at Silicon Media Group, CNET Networks and CBS Interactive.

The internet loves lists. So did magazines, to be fair. And the ancient Greeks. OK, I have no idea if Aristotle and Socrates loved a top 10. 

But to our Copy-wise question: How should you go about presenting a list? And to cut straight to the chase, I think there’s an obvious answer. 

In prose, especially in business writing, you’re going to introduce a bulleted or numbered list fairly often. My colleague Shirley Siluk covered bulleted lists a few years back. 

And a decade back I talked about how to remain unbiased, which is very important in fields such as journalism and academia — for example when presenting a string of company or country names. (Side note: It astounds me how often major publications don’t do this.) 

But, in general, there’s one main way to order a list: by starting with what’s most important. 

Now consider this list from a recent newsletter by best-selling author, blogger and podcaster Shane Parrish… 

Screenshot of a LinkedIn post by Shane Parrish, where the list is ordered by descending character count.

Now this is a pretty important subject, you’ll note. And generally Shane does a great job of covering all kinds of content and teasing out the best expert advice from others. I listen to his podcast most weeks and know plenty of people who also swear by his books. 

But for an important subject, he appears to be ordering his bullets… by character length. 

I mean, it’s possible that’s just chance. But it’s not. 

This is what my colleagues and others I know have started referring to ‘bro lists’. Much like being a ‘tech bro’ or ‘bitcoin bro’, being a copy bro on social media has led to a name for this practice, which really started to become popular a couple of years back. 

Why? I don’t know, for sure. 

I bet someone will say the technique turns heads. Or empirically gets better results. Or something.  

But it looks vacuous. Style over substance. Lightweight. 

In short:

  • Know how to use bullet points 
  • Know how to be unbiased 
  • Put information in the most logical order 
  • See how this list doesn’t gently ascend or descend in character count?