Listicles

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Top 10 reasons to write listicles

They’re the most shared type of content

From the beginning to the end, our lives are a series of lists. We start as an entry on a short list of baby names and end trying to fill a bucket list of experiences.

Attention span of a goldfish

Prize catch Your readers have — almost! — the attention of a goldfish. Listicles attract these highly distracted folks. Image by Indulge Media

Listicles (that’s a portmanteau of list and article) are among the most established, most popular and fastest-growing types of content. They grab reader attention and make your message easier to understand and remember. They’re so powerful, they may even ward off death.

So here, of course, is a Top 10 list of reasons to write lists:

1. Lists attract distracted readers.

The average human attention span dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to — oh look, shiny object! — eight seconds in 2013, according to 2015 research by Microsoft. That’s shorter than the attention span of goldfish.

One result of this deep drop in attention spans: People aren’t news reading — they’re news snacking. That is, they check the news more often and for shorter amounts of time.

For these distracted readers, lists are a quick, satisfying information snack — an amuse bouche, if you will — not a stultifying five-course meal.

2. Lists get more attention.

Lists and other “unconventional” approaches (including Q&As, timelines and short sidebars) get 15% more attention than the average story, according to The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack07 study.

3. Lists are more memorable.

Readers also remember lists longer than conventional articles, according to Eyetrack07.

That may be because humans process information spatially. Leave your grocery list at home, for instance, and you’ll probably still remember most of its items, because you recall where they were located on the list.

So your readers won’t forget: Remember, write a list.

4. Lists increase understanding.

And readers understand lists better than conventional articles, according to Eyetrack07.

5. Lists feel good.

The fascinating study of fluency shows that short, easy-to-pronounce words outperform long, hard-to-pronounce ones. Difficult words can even be seen as more dangerous.

Now you can add lists to the list of things that are fluent: Because we can process lists more easily than paragraphs, lists simply feel better than other types of text.

6. Lists get shared.

Lists rank second on the list of most shareable types of content, according to research by BuzzSumo. The provider of content marketing analytics itself analyzed the social share counts of more than 100 million articles. One finding: Lists get shared about 70% more often than the average article.

Hit list

Hit list Lists are the second most shared type of article, after only infographics. Image by Buzzsumo

Or they may be the most shared type of content, according to an analysis of more than 200,000 articles by Fractl and Buzzstream. Lists topped their list of types of blog posts that get shared.

7. Lists engage readers.

Shortly before he resigned as president, Richard Nixon spent a weekend at Camp David composing his list of favorite baseball players at the request of reporter Cliff Evans. When the list came out, there was a mixed bag of responses — but almost no one remained neutral.

“Where is …?”

“How could you leave out …?”

“Number five is nuts!”

That’s the power of lists: They engage readers.

8. Lists have been popular for years …

Lists comprise some of history’s most memorable content — from Moses’ Ten Commandments to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits to Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues (one of Franklin’s many lists, including synonyms for drunk and maxims for matrimonial happiness).

Virgin founder Richard Branson lives his life by making lists. Wallace Stevens, Johnny Cash and David Letterman turned lists into an art form. (Want more examples? Here’s a list of literary lists.)

In fact, Shakespeare coined the term “list,” in Hamlet. “List, list, O, list!” wrote The Bard.

When a snarky colleague derides listicles, just tell her you’re following Shakespeare’s lead.

9. … And they are the wave of the future.

2014 was the Year of Listicles, according to Ad Age. That trend shows no signs of slowing.

10. Finally … lists may cheat death.

The novelist and intellectual Umberto Eco once wrote: “How, as a human being, does one face infinity? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. … It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

Eco published a book about lists, presumably to ensure his immortality.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead: Make a list. It might not be the path to enlightenment (and then again, it might be), but it tops my list of ways to become immortal.

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