The listicle – an article built around a list – is a hugely successful format. For example, alongside ‘how-to’ articles, they are the most popular form on Bad Language.
It’s not just a blogging thing, either. Historically, lists have been very popular. In no particular order here are a few that have worked:
- The four noble truths
- The ten commandments
- Seven deadly sins
- Seven wonders of the world
- The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
- The noble eightfold path
Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues
- Ummm, Craigslist
This got me thinking. Why do lists work?
Others have also observed that list posts work. As Niccolò Brogi says: just Google ‘25 ways’. Psychologically, lists just ‘feel better’ with a clear promise and an easy-to-absorb format. They’re concise and scannable. Readers like them because you can measure your progress and stop or start whenever you want. Certainly, for writers, they’re easier to create: just start with a numbered list and fill in the blanks.
Here are the top ten ‘top tens’ on Bad Language:
- Top ten tips for top ten lists (a very good place to start)
- Ten tips for better emails
- 10 ways to slim down obese copy (my favourite headline on Bad Language)
- How I trained myself to get up earlier
- 10 provocative questions that will bend and blow your mind
- Seven website mock-up tools
- 10 things I wish I knew before I redesigned my website
- 9 essential marketing insights about typography
- 10 surprisingly simple tips for better headlines
- 62 ways to improve your press releases (a BIG list but this led to a trip to Sweden and a new client so lists really do pay)
But one thing we’ve learned at Articulate when using lists in client copy is that you can’t just end on the list. You need a close with a kick too. Readers probably won’t finish your article, according to Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, but your editor and your client definitely will.