10 Tips For Writing A List Article

I don’t know why this is, but people love lists. I mean, they want to marry lists and have children with them. There is an article on the top ten sci-fi horror movies starring Val Kilmer and one on the six ways to cure sleep-walking if you are an alien fixated by late-night Star Trek movies and are drunk. And, now: there is even an article on the top ways to write a list article. Done, and done. The universe can safely implode on itself now, thank you.

Side note: Thank you to the fine folks who have contacted me lately suggesting more list ideas. I’m also now compiling a list of the top ten pitches for list ideas. You have me pretty well pegged, oh e-mail champions of the public relations cyberverse! Keep those list ideas coming! Group hug.

1. Start big

Make a slam dunk right away. Boom! Just do it! Start strong! If you’re making a list article about poodle outerwear, don’t save the best for last: put that sporty little pool-vest idea right up there at the top.

2. Hook them and hook them good

A recent study of lists (included in another article about the top ten research studies, natch), assembled by some guy you’ve never heard of from an obscure European university in his spare time, found that Web readers usually don’t make it past the first few items on a list. Sad, isn’t it? I bet you’re already thinking about stopping. Yes, it sucks to know people have shorter attention spans than an overly-caffeinated Himalayan fruit-fly. Make the first few count, okay?

3. Stay on message

Let’s say you’re writing a list article about the top movies starring Naomi Watts that don’t suck. It’s a short list, if you remember anything about King Kong or her early indie films. I see this kind of thing pop up on Fox News and Metacritic once in awhile, and I usually can’t stop myself from clicking on them. You get into sort of a click-trance. In fact, hang on a second. I think there might be one on the top opening acts when The Bieb performs in space. Oh yes there is! Okay, back. So, in your article list of the top movies that use a Meatloaf song in the soundtrack, adding that one from Black Sabbath is just not proper usage. We want Meatloaf and Meatloaf only, people! Besides, Black Sabbath is for sissies.

4. Throw in a minor curveball

While you should stay on message with your list articles, it’s okay to include an oddball choice or two. I was reading through the ten best ways to break into a secret government security data center recently and, right before I was arrested, I noticed they had one on breaking into the front entrance of an FBI headquarters. See, now that’s creative! And, illegal.

4. Include short ones

They rock.

5. Link like crazy!

SEO experts, at least the ones who are not crazy or in jail, will tell you links are the glue that hold the Internets together. Front-loading your list article with links is like pouring gasoline on a fire – without the immediate need for emergency personnel. I will admit to not linking as much as I should, but it also pays to be a little reasonable about it and not go overboard.

6. Dig deep

Spend a little time on that list of Ukrainian clothing designers from the 70s. Look for them diligently. They are out there. Scour obscure Web sites like Fox News for ideas. Ask on Twitter. Check government databases and NPR. There’s a reason why people are reading your list and not feeding their children. They want details, so make sure you deliver. The kids can wait.

7. Don’t make stuff up

You may know about Imaginegate already, the sad story of the writer who invented stuff about Bob Dylan. I believe he was erstwhile. You know, Bob Dylan just didn’t have enough good material from his thousands of interviews, song lyrics, personal appearances, and concerts. Still, fight the urge to invent stuff. I do not recommend it. Oh, and neither does Columbia Journalism Review. (I still think it’s weird a clothing and shoe company reviews journalism, though.)

8. Finish strong

Personally, I like round numbers. If you can’t end on eight, end on ten. If you can’t end on ten, try doing a slideshow instead. I’ve seen some crazy fruit-loops doing a seven list or even an eleven, which is funny in a “turn it up to eleven” way but definitely not a round number. Oh, and include a juicy one at the end that makes people laugh. Unlike what I’m doing right now.


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