7 Things You Need to Know About Writing Lists That Work

7 Things You Need to Know About Writing Lists That Work

Reader Comments (76)

  1. 3 Reasons This is a Great Post

    #1 – You began with evidence: This helps people see your strategy works

    #2 – You introduced theory: The background on the brain satisfies people like me.

    #3 – You provided advice: Everyone loves practical actionable steps

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I agree with Michael, this is an excellent post and it’s very well formatted. I enjoyed the read very much.

    I’d like to add some information into the ‘theory’ behind list posts. Lists don’t just work because they cater to a left brain step-by-step approach. They are also very powerful because of the “chunking” of information.

    Breaking down concepts into smaller bits of information allows us to process and comprehend them with less difficulty. Lists are very powerful because the break information into smaller pieces that are more pleasant to look at, read, and comprehend. Lists are so powerful because they cater to both sides of the brain so well.

    Thanks again for the post,

    – Mason

  3. Although I’m “on the other side of the brain”, I must admit that people enjoy lists. My most successful posts were those presenting lists or steps on how to do various things. Personally, I don’t like lists, especially if they have more than three items. The reason is simple: I tend to get distracted, so I have to look back all the time, in order to be able to see the whole picture.

  4. Good tips, thanks.

    For me, a list is most effective when nested between longer, more involved pieces of content.

    When you create a list, keep in mind that that list will, in effect, be auditioning on behalf of your site at large.

    Someone who finds your site through a list will read the list. If it’s excellent, they’ll probably be sold on bothering to read stuff in paragraph form as well.


  5. Researchers at the Archives of Sexual Behavior must not be reading your blog. They just published a list of “237” reasons that motivate people to have sex. I think a top 7 (or less) list would have been sufficient. 🙂

  6. It also seems, to me at least, that a lot of the 150 (or some other unnecessarily(?) large lists) get quite a lot of attention if they’re on a popular topic.

  7. Adam, yep. Those huge numbered lists are hard to resist, and they do really well at Delicious, since you pretty much have to bookmark them to make them of any use.

  8. But who possibly has time to compile a list of 150+ items?

    Just because of that I’m going to have to try. The question is, which topics actually benefit from large lists?

    I’ll have to think about that one.

  9. Brian, good point about the super lists requiring a bookmark to be of any use.

    That’s absolutely true.

    At the same time, I’ll avoid anything of that length for now unless it’s supposed to be humorous. Too hard to come up with 50+ legitimate points on any subject to do it unless I’d be assured it would bring people in droves.

  10. I will change my ways because:
    1. lists are good for traffic
    2. making lists will force me to clarify my thinking
    3. writing long paragraphs is an old skill less rewarded in the day of the 15 second sound/visual bite

  11. I didn’t really consider using lists in my blog posts until I read about it here on Copyblogger. My posts that do contain lists get more hits (ie. search engine traffic) and also draw out more comments from my readers.

    Thanks for the great post! Keep up the good work!

  12. Are you saying my clever trick of writing business advice in iambic pentameter isn’t going to get me famous and rich?

    Should I also reconsider my Palandrome Palavers on Wednesdays, and my Ineluctable Euphemisms on Mondays?

    Egads, are none of the old parlour tricks still in fashion?

  13. Personally I find the ultra-long lists quite annoying (the 100+ ones, you rarely find ones between 20 & 100).

    Thanks for the elaboration about lists… though I hadn’t done them much in the past recently have been doing one too many.

    Important to avoid this trap so as not to anger your readers.

  14. Lets cut to the chase: lists work because we’re all lazy smucks, who don’t “read” but “scan” and who because our attention spans have been shot to pieces need to be fed our info in bite-sized chunks. 🙂

  15. Lists are unfortunately effective. And any Joe Blow can come up with a list by rearranging or stealing from other people’s post. Many times they are tid -bits of information with 0 backing from personal experience. But in this *sigh* instant gratification culture it’s what people want.

    Also: i can’t stand blogs that force us to give our E-Mail address. Also: You have some very good posts.

  16. Let’s not forget the basic familiarity of the list format.

    From the time we are children in school, we are often told to start assignments my numbering our papers. The list of answers follows.

    I think this plays a part in why we equate lists with answers. And, really, who doesn’t want answers?

  17. I like lists as much as the next reader/blogger/editor. But, with all due respect, I do not believe this one delivered as much as the headline that got me here promised (maybe that should have been on the list ). A fair reading of the headline would lead a reader to expect the emphasis of the piece to be on the how: HOW do I make a list that works. Points 1, 2 and 3 address only why I should make a list. Point 4 merely notes what is perhaps the single most repeated bit of advice to writers: Write what you know. No. 5 I did find useful. No. 6, trivial. And No. 7 so vague — don’t overdo it? — as to be of little value. … All in all, I can’t say I thought this was a list that worked. But it seems to be doing well over at Digg, so perhaps I’m wrong.

  18. Paul, all I can say is the post *did* do well on Digg, and was bookmarked heavily enough to make Delicious Popular, so maybe you’re just more advanced than most.

  19. Sites like Digg do seem to favour lists. I wonder whether this popularity reflects what people actually like to read. Perhaps it says a lot about the surf-surf-surf nature of reading online. It certainly tallies with what Jakob Neilsen has said about writing for the web (in short, be brief, scannable and hype-free).

    As an aside, you might enjoy a post I wrote last year: “Top ten tips for top ten lists.” Tip number nine is: Always leave them wanting more. There is no tip number ten! 🙂

  20. -101 can work to get readers interested to your list.
    – 77 , 66 , 55 are others ways to create your lists.
    – using your social bookmarking and every time you add a most related description can be the best way to get quality list and content to your blogs or web site.

  21. I love lists. I’m a list person. But I agree that too many can be tedious. What are your feelings on the bulleted list? Are numbers the key to making lists great?

  22. Thank you Brian for producing some seriously potent information. Being new to blogging I know first hand that using a list in my post works. Not being in the IM niche I used a 5 pt list. I experienced the most traffic in one day since starting my blog less than two months ago. Of course it could have been the headline. Or the content. Either way it works!

    Thanks Brian

  23. In psychology, we are taught that the magic number is 7, plus or minus 2. The average human mind remembers 5 to 9 chunks of information with ease. More than 9 is too many for people to take it all in easily, while less than 5 can be too easy, making it seem trivial. That’s why lists of 7 are more popular with Digg and why good writers generally prefer to use no less than 5 items.

  24. There’s no doubt lists work on social media. I hadn’t heard that “left brain vs right brain” explanation before – very interesting. Thanks.

  25. I swear this is like my Go To Website!

    Great Breakdown of a lists format. I will be using this strategy on my blog today. I wanted to get some extra tips and this is awesome!

  26. I agree, listing works much better than a mere text, because it’s easier to read (you can scan all the information easily without in-depth reading) and more structured.

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