Biggest not best – avoiding bias in lists easy as 'ABC'

January 12, 2014 5:10 pm

ABC - easy as dont judge me

List without prejudice

Time and time again when we edit copy (this greying editor in particular likes to edit long-form content on paper) you will see margin notes where we scribble ‘ABC’.

What does that mean? Quite often writers will have lists of companies or countries within sentences. The ‘ABC’ annotation relates to the correct order for these.

One school of thought suggests that for any list you place the most important item first. That’s how we mainly use lists in our everyday lives.

But in business writing there is one big problem for this, plus a few smaller ones.

The biggee, the reason for this latest post in our style and grammar series, is that you can be accused of bias.

Think about a typical list of partners, for example’s sake comprising six companies. One might be the biggest contributor to you in terms of revenue, another the best-known, still another your favourite to deal with, while one might be in a key new territory that is your focus this year.

which comes first?

The simple away around this, the ABC answer, is always to write lists in alphabetical order. It applies to people or country names as much as companies and it is a no-brainer.

This is not only a time-saving tool for every editor across the media and content marketing but has the potential to avert embarrassing situations and so save business.

If any company asks why they’re not mentioned first (because they’re most profitable, oldest, buy the most beer etc.) then you have your answer: “That’s our house style.”

*photo credit: Stitch via photopin cc

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