Whether you read it or watch it, a list is a surefire way to deliver and receive information without working too hard. Here are a few reasons why a list is preferable to read, and to write:
1. Lists don’t waste so much time. I used to read articles. Long ones. Exposés on how global warming is wrecking the planet (see: every issue of Rolling Stone). On how Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the greatest TV show ever (see: every issue of Entertainment Weekly). And how a socialite was murdered by her billionaire hedge fund husband (see: every issue of Vanity Fair). But in this day of Web-based everything, some of us don’t have 5 or 10 minutes to fritter away READING and FLIPPING PAGES over such long-winded articles. But give me an online list to read, and I’ll give you 120 seconds.
2. We’ve been reading and writing lists since, like, forever. An article in list form is the smartest way to reach a time-starved audience that wants to know stuff, but doesn’t want to spend time learning things. And we are a society that has lived by the list. Our first set of rules (The 10 Commandments) was a list.
Today on Buzzfeed, the 10 Commandments would be titled “10 Ways to Totally Get into Heaven”. And there’d be animated GIFs of Ryan Gosling and Sofia Vergara accompanying the one on coveting thy neighbor’s spouse.
The Commandments were done in list form because God knew that while people were made in His image, their attention spans were not. Who had time for all that reading when one was busy fattening up a sacrificial lamb or breaking his back building a pyramid? Plus God had learned a valuable lesson in clarity with humans from the whole Garden of Eden fiasco. Perhaps if he’d presented the “Don’t Eat The Apple” warning in more of an easy-to-read list (“6 Reasons Why Eating THAT Apple will Ruin it for EVERYBODY”), this world would be a much different place.
3. Lists have a perfect beginning and end. When it comes to writing one of these list-based articles, anyone can do it. Just start with an intriguing intro (secret: it doesn’t have to be intriguing), populate it with your list, and end it with something resembling a conclusion. You can really just make it up as you go along, which is what I’m doing now.
4. Lists keep the reader FOCUSED. As I mentioned before, the average attention span of a U.S.-born human being is roughly .000000000000001 seconds. So it’s important to get to the point quickly, before your reader gets distracted (oh look, a butterfly!). A list is neatly parceled out in bite-sized pieces, so by the time a reader’s mind starts to wander, the next item on the list yanks them back to your reality.
5. Lists make boring stuff un-boring. “Studies show people are 45% more likely to read an article that is written in list form, than an article written in the standard paragraph, after paragraph, after paragraph form.” The previous sentence may be true, but how the hell would I know? I just made it up to prove a point. If that “fact” had been surrounded by lots of paragraphs in a normal article, you might have tuned it out. But somehow, if you put a study or some scientific-sounding jargon as one item on your list, it’s much more digestible. No one knows for sure why this is, but I bet studies indicate it has something to with science.
6. You don’t need transitions. In real writing, with sentences that compose paragraphs, and paragraphs that compose articles, you need the words to FLOW, and the paragraphs need to somehow CONNECT to one another. Otherwise your writing appears to be choppy and disjointed. An easy way to provide a paragraph-to-paragraph transition is to start the next paragraph with the word “and” or “but”. But with a list, you don’t worry about transitions. The next item on the list IS THE TRANSITION! You can do a total 180 and no one really cares. Readers don’t really expect you to transition from one list item to the next. You can throw in a totally unrelated list item and a reader barely notices.
7. I wonder what’s next for Miley Cyrus.
8. If you take a break reading a list, you won’t lose your place. Life is full of interruptions. The phone rings. The fire alarm sounds. Your kid found your meth. It happens, and these interruptions only seem to happen when you’re in the middle of something important, like performing CPR or reading an article. With a standard article, that interruption leads to the frustrating task when you get back to it: Finding Your Place. Because in a standard article, all those words look the same. Where was I? Who knows? Then you work to search where you left off, find yourself re-reading something (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) or re-starting too far ahead and missing something important. (“Christian and Anastasia put their clothes back on.”). With a list, you know where you left off (NUMBER 9!), and you’re back on track.
9. You can make a list up about anything. The world’s a big place. Billions of people. So there is an audience for anything. Even the kind of stuff that interests you.
10. You can keep things short if you want. Pace your readers (and your reading). These two-to-three sentence items can act as sort of a “breather” between more heavy sections. Keep these items fairly short.
11. Or really short.
12 You can use images or video to make a list. Words feel a little too overwhelming? No problem! Just use pictures with simple captions. Or place videos within the lists to supplement what you have to say.
13. Money (good list-writers, not so much for list-readers). You can break your list up into two, three or four web pages. Sure, it’s a way to build advertising with added banner ads, but readers tend to dislike this, because getting to the next page requires them to use their index finger to click on their mouse. And this action comes perilously close to resembling, you know, physical effort.
14. A list can be of any denomination. With these lists, there’s no need for nice round numbers. In fact, if not too overwhelming, they can actually be more attention-getting and believable. Studies prove it.
15. You have an option to finish it off with a concluding item. Generally this is an item that doesn’t add much to the overall article. It’s just a button to wrap it all up.
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