Using Pro and Con Lists

Understanding the term

What exactly does “Pro and Con” stand for? The term is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “pro et contra,” which means “for and against.” Therefore, “pros” are the points in favor of a particular topic, and the “cons” are points against that topic. They are closely related to advantages and disadvantages.  So, how do you use pro and con lists?

How to use Pro and Con Lists

Pros and Cons are useful as part of a decision making or argumentation process because they promote consideration of multiple aspects on a topic or issue. The exercise of identifying pros and cons requires engagement with an opposing viewpoint, and that leads to a deeper understanding.

Pro and Con lists are best used when you are looking for a clear yes/no, start/stop, valid/invalid type of answer. They are not effective if you are looking at a complex problem with more than two choices. They are very effective, however, when you have a binary (two options) choice. It is best to start with a question that features a default choice rather than a question that includes two or more choices.

Let’s look at an example. Consider the question, “Should I hire a contractor to finish my basement, or should I finish it myself?” If you start listing the pros, or advantages, of hiring a contractor, you will also need a separate place to list the pros of doing it yourself. Basically, a question like that requires two separate pro and con lists. For a better result, start with a question like, “Should I hire a contractor to finish my basement?” Now, you only need one list. If the cons outweigh the pros – if you see more disadvantages to hiring a contractor – then you know the best option is to do it yourself.

Watch out for the word “or” in your initial question. If you are using “or,” you are making your pro and con list very difficult.

Examples of Pro and Con Lists

Let’s stick with our example of “Should I hire a contractor to finish my basement?”  For the most basic pro and con list, you can simply write your question at the top, and then draw a line down the middle of the page to create two columns.  Put your Pros on the left and your Cons on the right.  After that, start brainstorming.  It might help to think of your points in different ways.  Try thinking of advantages and disadvantages, then likes and dislikes, and then maybe benefits and harms.  Any set of binary choices can work, and by using multiple combinations you are more likely to think of all the key points.  Here’s how that basic pro and con list might turn out:

Example 1

Sample pro and con list showing 5 pros and 3 cons

With a simple numbered list like this, you can just compare the number of pros to cons to make your decision.  In this case, there are 5 pros and just 3 cons, so it looks like the decision is to hire a contractor.  But what if you reach this point and it feels like the wrong decision?  What if the additional cost of hiring a professional just feels like too big of a con to ignore?  Well, then, what you are doing in your thinking is adding weight to each of the points.  This is a great way to add deeper analysis to your decision making, and a quick adjustment to your list can capture this.  Consider the following example where we’ve added a weight ranking, using a 5-point scale, in parentheses after each point:

Example 2

Sample pro and con list showing different value weights for each point

Now, instead of just adding the total number of pros and cons, we add the weight values.  So, the total is 7 for the pros and 8 for the cons.  It looks like you’ll be finishing this basement yourself!

There are many ways to construct Pro and Con lists, but these two basic variations offer a terrific starting point. For the articles on this website, we mostly stick with the first option and list considerations for each side. You may notice, however, that some of the Conclusions demonstrate that we’ve weighted some points higher than others (even if we haven’t assigned a specific point value.) Ultimately, pro and con lists are designed to vary from person to person. They help you to arrive at your own answer or opinion.

We hope the articles on this site provide some useful points to consider on many interesting topics. Looking for a good place to start? Check out our Featured Posts!

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