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Are Listicles Good or Evil? Here Are Our Top 1,621 Words To Answer.

It started innocently enough over at Buzzfeed, and because most of the articles were lighthearted, the idea of the listicle didn't seem threatening at first. Titles such as 'The 25 Most Awkward Cat Sleeping Positionsor 'Answer Six Questions About Potatoes and We'll Reveal Your Soulmate' aren't exactly raising our collective consciousness, but then again, we shouldn't expect them to. We know what those articles are all about going in. And even for those of us who are seeking a healthy, balanced diet of content, there's nothing wrong with a little piece of candy now and again, right? 

Well, it's time for an intervention, because these damn listicles have gotten completely out of control, to the point where our default setting as professional writers is to look down on them: lazy writers pushing content for lazy readers - end of story. If you want to waste a few minutes online and find something to laugh or groan at, listicles have got you covered. But if you actually want to learn something, or apply a new principle to your business, life, or both, you'd better look elsewhere....right? 

We honestly don't know. You can find countless articles (or yes, even listicles [heavy sigh]) about why listicles are here to stay, why millennials love them, why they're dumbing us down, how they've been around since the Ten Commandments and we need to stop hating, how they're destroying our civilization, etc., etc. And there's very little data to support any of these arguments. It all seems so subjective, but then again, this is the Internet, so what isn't? Even the definition of a 'fact' is up for debate in 2017. 

Regardless, we wanted to find an answer, or at least get you thinking about whether or not you should partake in this madness. So, you guessed it, here are our Top Five arguments for and against listicles:

FOR: 

  1. Listicles offer rapid fire ideas, at which point you can go do your own research. 
    This is something you should be doing anyway, regardless of what type of article you're reading or where it's from. Now obviously, if you're reading a low-stakes article like 'The 101 Best Movies On Netflix Right Now', then you don't need independent research or a second opinion. But if the article is high-stakes, such as '7 Ways to Improve Your Content Marketing Strategy', you'll need to carefully examine each recommendation, because your business is unique and not every suggestion will be a good fit. Search for a range of ideas, determine which might apply to your situation, triple-check your facts, and take it from there.
     
  2. The structure is simple and digestible, allowing the writer to focus on the information. If you've ever attempted to write an article, an ebook, or hell, even copy for your Instagram posts, you know that writing isn't easy. Fear, self-sabotage, insecurity, and the paranoid lizard brain are all out to convince us that we're frauds; that we have no clue what we're talking about; or that we're grossly under-qualified to be telling people how to live their life or run their business, and yes, we're being judged - harshly. So hey, if a listicle allows the writer to loosen up a bit and not put so much pressure on themselves, it's hard to be fervently against that as writers ourselves. 
     
  3. Listicles are generous to the reader as they allow us to skim.
    We're constantly being pummeled with emails, texts, notifications, likes, tweets, comments, articles, pings, invites, e-vites, and numerous other requests. So naturally, we get distracted, and rarely finish the articles or books that we begin reading. Slate did a really great piece on this. (Although, according to the data presented in the article, you've probably already stopped reading this....ya jerk.) Or hell, when was the last time you read a book? Like, all the way through? If you said one in the past year, sadly, you're ahead of the curve. Point is, life is distracting, and reading requires concentration. Listicles are easier to finish, and thus, help us feel more accomplished. 
     

  4. There's really no difference between a listicle and a traditional article. 
    Think about it, aren't most articles listicles in a sense? Let's say one article has eight headers all with different text, and another article has those same eight headers and the same information, but this one is numbered. What's the difference? Should we really despise one article on principle simply because they decided to use numbers in front of the headers? 
     

  5. Listicles are more psychologically satisfying. 
    The Internet is a cluster fuck. So it makes perfect sense that we love knowing exactly what we're getting with an article. We can click and scan the headers so we feel like we're not wasting any precious time, and count down to ourselves as we read so we know how close we are to being finished. It feels like less work for the brain. And for whatever reason, lists just feel more definitive. Who knew! Just slap a number on it and bam - credible. (Hey, it's not a great strategy, but we human beings are far from perfect.) 

AGAINST: 

  1. Listicles rarely offer any real value. 
    When was the last time you read an article like 'The 7 (or 10, or 21, or 873) Habits of Successful Entrepreneurs' and actually walked away changed as a person? Or put those suggestions into practice the next day? Or even remembered reading it 48 hours later? Maybe we're being cynical here, but we've never read a listicle that changed our lives. And most of the time, the suggestions are so obvious that it ends up sounding like almost every other article on the subject. So how do you become a successful entrepreneur? Oh duh, it's so simple! Just focus on what your customers need, workout in the morning, remain humble, be passionate, love what you do, embrace obstacles, and make sure to read plenty of generic platitudes in the form of listicles every day. And boom! Now you're a successful entrepreneur too, right? ........right??? 
     
  2. Listicles are just clickbait disguised as content. 
    Conveniently enough, most of these types of articles are split up into several parts, or have some sort of slideshow where you have to click through to several pages to see the entire list. You feel like you're accomplishing something, and marketers get to say to their clients, "Look at how many impressions you're getting!" Sorry, but this whole operation just seems very sleazy. Maybe this sounds too 'purist' for some, but we don't believe in the mass industrialization of content. But all too often, that's exactly what you're being subjected to. 
     
  3. They allow content mills to thrive. 
    And don't get it twisted - these content farms have ZERO interest in educating you or providing you with any real value. They are loyal to their advertisers and no one else. They pray on desperate writers who have limited options when it comes to making money online. These companies claim to want nothing but quality content, and yet so few are willing to pay for it. But hey, if you disagree, here's a listicle on the '5 Best Content Mills For Making Money Online.You can make $15 an article at some places! Some will even pay you $0.007 cents a word. Think about it - 143 words and you've got a penny! Thanks content mill! What would the Internet do without you?!
     
  4. Listicles rarely, if ever, leave room for a nuanced discussion. 
    Again, if it's a listicle on movies, or memes, or some other lighthearted subject, we can live without the nuance. There's no 'reading between the lines' required. But that's not where our concern lies. It's with the articles that pose as educational, authoritative, or life-changing. The ones that claim to be able to make us successful. The ones that appear to focus on complex business processes or political intricacies. These articles are often just fluffy opinion pieces positioned as fact, reader be damned. The content mills would rather just let us figure it out, right? That't not their problem. They've got quotas to meet. And as long as we keep consuming these vapid articles, the show will go on. 
     
  5. They take advantage of us psychologically. 
    See #5 in the "FOR" category. 
     

Finally, here are a few of our recommended best practices if you are writing listicles: 

  1. Think of your listicle as a table of contents. Try to keep your article chock full of additional reading, links, sources, and other research whenever possible. 
     
  2. Know your audience. Are you trying to be short, pithy, and sarcastic because your readers share your sense of humor? Or are you trying to get serious and provide real, actionable value to entrepreneurs eager to view you as a resource? Pick your spots is all we're saying. 
     
  3. Make sure your headers pop. After all, that's the whole point of these, right? To allow people to skim, save time, and decide if your piece is right for them before they commit? If so, your headers can easily make or break the success of your article. 
     
  4. Try to tell a story with your headers. Does your listicle follow any sort of structure, or is it completely random? If your reader were to just scan the headers, would it still tell them a story in some way? Would it give away the ending, or pique your reader's curiosity? Food for thought. 
     
  5. Focus on providing real, actionable value. Your listicle will only be a dumbed down piece if you let it. 

What do you think? Are we being fair? Too harsh? Too cynical? Hit us up on Twitter @wordsbysorensen and give us what for.