Robert F. Abbott

Article Summary:

Standard conventions that will teach you how to write a checklist.

How to Write a Checklist

There are a number of strategic reasons for using checklists, a format which helps make your point(s) by putting at least some of your document in lists, rather than all in standard paragraphs. For example, checklists may convey the idea that you have carefully analyzed a situation, that a sequence should be followed, or that you are a well-organized person.

In this article, we look at some techniques which will help you in the creation of checklists.

How you create your checklist will depend on its type. In some cases, you will want readers to follow a sequence of steps; this is a sequential checklist. On the other hand, if it’s just a list, like a shopping list, then it would be a non-sequential list.

If you write non-sequential checklists, use bullets or boxes to indicate a new line or new item, as in:

  • something
  • something else
  • another thing again

One quick note about bullets: if you’re printing and distributing the message, then you can use conventional bullet forms (usually a square or round dot, whether solid or hollow). If you’re sending the message by email, use an asterisk because not all email programs handle bullets properly (something to do with ASCII characters).

If the steps must be taken in sequence, then you’ll use numbers or letters as your bullets. And, if that sequence has several sub-steps within each step, you would follow convention by using these types of characters, in this order:

  • Roman numeral
  • Capital letter
  • Standard (Arabic) number
  • Lower case letter

For example:

I The Beginning
        A. The first part of the Beginning
                1. The first part of the first part
                      a) and so on.

Indentations are helpful when working with highly structured checklists, like these. They show at a glance the importance of each component in the list.

A couple of other types of checklist might also be considered — flowcharts and mind-maps. A flow-chart means a series of boxes illustrating the linear steps in a process. These are especially helpful if the checklist includes decision points. For example, "If the computer starts, do this" or "If the computer DOES NOT start, do that."

A mind-map refers to a number of boxes with interconnecting lines (not necessarily in a sequence, but perhaps showing interrelationships). In this case, the idea is to show how different aspects of the same issue connect with each other.

One final thought: outliners, whether stand-alone or in word processors can provide checklists, along with appropriate indentations. If the content fits the checklist format, an outliner may help you create one quickly and easily.

Robert F. Abbott offers three free chapters from his book, A Manager’s Guide to Newsletters: Communicating for Results. He also offers free subscriptions to Abbott’s Communication Letter, a free newsletter that helps you enhance your career through improved business communication.

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