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10 Tips for Better Pro-Con Lists

Out of all the decision tools out there, pro-con lists are one of the best known. But while easy to understand, pro-con lists can be hard to get right. Use these guidelines to make better pro-con lists.

1. Use for the Right Decisions

Use pro-con lists for Go/No-Go, Continue/Cancel or other decisions with a clear Yes/No answer. Avoid using them to decide between two or more choices. Use a decision grid or the Analytical Hierarchy Process for those decisions.

2. Ask the Right Question

Phrase your question so there’s a clear default choice, e.g. “Should I hire a social media firm?” rather than “Should I hire a social media firm or do it internally?”.

Questions with clear default choices give you clearer pros and cons. With the latter question you don’t know whether to use the con “costs more money”, to refer to hiring the firm, or  “saves money”, to refer to doing it internally. Having a default streamlines your thought processes and allows you to word your pros and cons clearly to reflect your default choice.

When sharing with others, describe your default choice in a description of your decision. Or, if you do include it in your question, make the phrasing clear which is the default option, e.g. “Should I hire a social media firm instead of doing it internally?”.

3. Use Differences Only

If the choice you’re analyzing and your default choice both share the same pro or con, don’t list it. A pro and con must be different than your default choice to be relevant to your decision.

Likewise, pros and cons should be in relation to your default option. Use words like “more” or “less” to indicate differences in quantity or quality, and “adds”, “removes”, “enables” or “prevents” to indicate attributes that only exist for one option.

4. Make It Personal

Focus pros and cons on your specific situation. Avoid abstract pros and cons which aren’t relevant or important to you.

5. Drill In

Ask what benefits or losses an attribute causes, and consider listing those instead.

For instance, “a bigger yard” might have several benefits: more room for kids to run around, space to build a storage shed and room for a bigger garden. Drilling in might also uncover cons, like the need to mow the lawn.

If while writing down a pro, you think of a con related to that pro, or vice versus, you haven’t drilled down far enough.

6. Avoid Duplicates

Be careful not to list the same pro or con multiple times using different wording. Evaluate each pro and con to ensure they are unique.

7. Avoid Compound Statements

Don’t combine multiple pros or cons into the same statement.

Avoid pros like “Enables me to get another job and buy a new car”. Split statements like these into two pros: “Enables me to get another job” and “Enables me to buy a new car”.

8. Use Categories

One of the hardest problems with doing pro-con lists is ensuring you’ve captured all your pros and cons. To assist with this, create a list of categories before starting your list that your pros and cons could fall under. Use each category as a way of checking whether you’ve exhausted all the pros and cons in that category.

For instance, if deciding whether to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you might explore pros and cons related to Finances, Chores, Space Sharing and Relationship Expectations. Within Finances you might list “cheaper rent” as a pro and “potential to argue over bills” as a con. If you ask yourself whether any other finance-related pros or cons exist, you could discover “won’t be building credit if all the bills are in their name”.

9. Explore Fixed vs Fixable Cons

Decisions aren’t static. Once made, you have to implement them. And aspects of your decision can change during this time.

Consider which cons you might be able to work around and which ones will remain cons no matter what you do. Pay more attention to those cons which cannot be changed.

10. Evaluate from the Opposite Angle

Put your list aside and create a new list asking the opposite question. If you asked “Should I hire a social media firm instead of doing it internally?”, instead ask “Should I do social media internally instead of hiring a social media firm?”.

Don’t peek at your original list. Go through the exercise evaluating your decision from the opposite angle. Once done, pull out your original list and compare the two sets of pros and cons. If you’ve explored all your options, the lists should match up exactly. Often, though, the opposite angle provides new insights you missed the first time.

What decisions have you used pro-con lists for?



  1. Using Occam’s razor and pattern recognition, like the same decision on the same problem or request WILL give you the same result, should be well established by age 21 or sooner. Whatever decisions you have made before today culminated in where you are today. Is it where you wanted to be Today? If yes… then use the same decisions, if no… then use another choice. If neither choice will make a difference… defer to make it until it does make a difference. Sometimes no decision is the right decision and most choices are pre-determined by patterns of earlier decisions some of which neither choice is better than the other, like in elections of political rulers who don’t have your best interest in mind… you’re qualifying them for a job only they believe they can do when you’re not the one who’s qualified to do the hiring.

    Make the best decision by deciding ONLY those things that affect your future outcome since you’ll never get credit for somebody else’s success using your decision ability and if it’s good for another, maybe you ought to make that decision for yourself since your life is the only one that your decisions can impact and you’re going to judge your own decisions when you do or don’t get the effects of the causes your decisions create.

    Should I (have) post(ed) this or not? Hmmm… the brackets tell my answer.

    Now, with brackets removed, it’s your decision to make with a response or not.

    Awaiting your reply.

  2. Hey guys, I built this app because I have enjoyed using Pro Con Lists for decision making. Let me know if this can help you or your readers:

  3. One time I made a pros/cons list between staying with my current girlfriend Julie, or breaking up with her and going out with my longtime crush Rachel. I ended up choosing Rachel but when she found MAN WAS SHE MAD!

  4. Great tips, thanks! I especially liked the last one. It’s very important to evaluate all things in our lives from a different perspective, be it opposite or just from a different angle. It’s also the hardest one, at least for me, because I tend to stick to what I have decided or what seems the best option at the moment.
    Maybe I would add another tip. Give for someone to look at it if it is possible. Sometimes it can make all the difference…


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