Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
There are so many reasons why it is good to make a list, I could make a list of them (and actually, I did). But, safe to say, lists are ubiquitous in communication. We use them for shopping, for things we need to do, and steps we need to take. Mentally, we like the neat compartments of a discrete set of tasks or phases. The list can often take the form of the familiar "Do's and Don'ts." In product cases, for example, there are the sets of best practices for designing, testing, and marketing a product. In an employment case, there are the listed requirements and restrictions in the employment policies and manual. Or in a patent, there's the list of claims and elements that must or must not be included. Ultimately, at the end of the case, there is the list of ultimate do's or don'ts for the jury: the verdict form.
Usually these lists include both steps that are framed as action (do's) and those framed as inaction (don'ts). We might see them as more or less equivalent. At the same time, there is some research suggesting that we are better off making them more consistent. In other words, try to stick with do's or stick with don'ts, but the mixture is less streamlined and less influential than the consistent version. Before leaving the house, you might think, "I should feed the dog, take the newspaper in, don't forget to set the alarm, and don't leave any electronics running," but you're better off flipping those last two so they're also "do's" and not "don'ts:" Set the alarm and turn off electronics. That might seem like a small and artificial difference, but the research suggests that it is better to stick within a single frame (action or inaction) rather than moving back and forth. In this post I will share the details on that research, and I won't neglect to also share (Okay, I will also share) some implications on what this means to legal persuaders.