Let Monty Python help you build techcomm lists correctly

Monty Python offers a most entertaining reminder about the safest way to introduce bullet lists in their sketch The Spanish Inquisition:

Omit the number of elements in the list’s introduction. This allows you to add elements to the list without having a wrong introduction.

In the words of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin):

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise….

Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency….

Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope….

Our four…no…

Amongst our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise….

I’ll come in again.

Imagine what Ximenez’s diatribe looks like in Word with changes tracked:

Two Three Four Cchief weapons of the Spanish inquisition:

    • Surprise Fear
    • Fear Surprise
    • Ruthless efficiency
    • An almost fanatical devotion to the pope

It’s only a small problem, but time and again, I’ve been caught with a list in my documentation of “the following five countries/languages/currencies” – followed by seven elements, including two which had been added later.

Bonus fun fact

According to the sketch’s Wikipedia entry, the catch phrase “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” spawned several more occurrences in pop culture, including a headline “in 2004, when the Abbey National bank was to be sold to the Banco Santander Central Hispano: ‘Nobody expects the Spanish acquisition!'”. 🙂

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3 Responses

  1. […] Kai’s Tech Writing Blog features a wonderfully amusing and highly accurate post detailing a simple problem and providing a comical resolution. […]

  2. LOL Kai! I seem to remember the final two words of the Monty Python show that featured this sketch were an expletive unrepeatable for this audience. As the Spanish Inquisition battlled against the London transport system to reach the courtroom, only to arrive as the show credits ended, their outburst seems to perfectly back up your thesis 🙂

  3. […] Let Monty Python help you build lists correctly […]

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