I know, I know. You want to be fresh and original in your writing, so why would you ever want to follow a formula for writing an structuring your blog posts? And a list! Doesn’t the world have enough list articles and blog posts?
Answer: No. We can’t have enough lists. Our brains love lists! (Really, they do. See this New Yorker Article, A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists.) Before we stop scanning and start reading, we like to instantly understand what’s in it for me? and lists tell you exactly what’s in it for you: 3 Ways to Save on Car Insurance, 8 Mistakes Students Make When Paying Back Loans, 5 Ways to Melt Body fat, The Top 10 Albums of All Time…
We like lists. That’s why you see them everywhere. This is a go-to formula used in magazines, press releases, newspapers, website articles, and in book titles. Even The New York Times uses lists in their feature article sections.
Listicles Are Not Clickbait if the Content Is Good
Listicles have recently become associated with “click bait” headlines and are considered very “Buzzfeedish.” However, in defense of listicles, they have been around for…forever, at least they were around way before Buzzfeed. So yes, the list article has suffered a blow to its workhorse reputation, but trust me, anyone who publishes print or online content knows that listicles are popular because they work — both for the writer to give you a structure and for the reader who likes knowing what she is about to learn.
Many students end up writing several list posts because they provide structure and help create that “chunky” text that is helpful for online readers. Read on for eight guidelines on how to write a great listicle:
1. Start your listicle post with a an introduction
You want to provide a paragraph or two to provide the background/reason you wrote the list. Provide the context. Here is advice for writing your intro from Amanda Zantal-Wiener HubSpot. If you skip the intro and dive right into the list, you’re not thinking of your audience. At the end of your introduction, add a short sentence introducing your list.
2. Number the items and create a short subhead for each
The title for each of these items in the list is a subhead. Even if you choose not to use a number in your post headline/title, you should still always number a list or a series of steps. This makes it easier to scan and read. (Subheads do not need periods.)
In terms of how many numbers it takes to make a list, the minimum is 3. If you can, the next best number is 5, then 7. But don’t worry! 4, 6, 8 and 9 are fine too, if that’s how many items need to be in the list; it’s just that 3/5/7/10/12 are the most popular list numbers.
3. Format your subheads in H2 or H3
Subheads should be at least a point bigger than the regular text and bold. It’s important to format using Headings: H2, or if H2 is too big, H3. Formatting your subheadings boosts your SEO and also makes your post accessible for anyone using a screen reader.
4. Use parallel structure for each item/step in the list
Parallelism is important when writing lists and bullet points. For example, state each item as a command (Do/Make/Remember/Allow). This list is parallel. Each subhead starts with a present tense verb. You can also begin with nouns. If you’re reviewing items or recommending restaurants, then the items/restaurants can be the list subheads and your can even link them.
5. Present the items in a logical order
Your list should be in chronological order or in order of importance. You can present your list as steps or as a countdown. I think it’s always good to save something really interesting and fun for last. This helps leave an impression on your reader.
6. Try to make the items fairly similar in length
If you have a lot of text under one of your list items, or even all of them, that’s okay, but make sure you break your text into paragraphs. Long chunks of text are uninviting.
7. Make sure to offer some new advice or information
Don’t just recycle the same old info or recommend your favorite restaurants or products. Do it with gusto and enthusiasm! Make sure you have something new to say or illustrate your point with examples unique to you. Sometimes what is new is how we say it or why we offer the information. Your personality should shine through in your writing.
8. End with a conclusion that invites the reader to engage
After you conclude your list, you shouldn’t just stop writing. Add a conclusion. I like when there’s a subhead for the conclusion too. It can be something simple like: What Do You Think? Ask for comments. Hey, let me know what you think of listicles. Do you love them like me or are you suspicious of them like some students are, at first. Trust me, everyone comes around to the listicle.
And Now, my Conclusion …
Notice how I didn’t just stop writing this post after the last number in the list? Notice how I have clearly delineated my conclusion from the list with a subhead. You can’t ask for comments and invite engagement if you don’t have a last paragraph. And there’s nothing wrong with reminding your readers: I totally appreciate you, even if you don’t leave me comments! Thank you for reading.
You don’t always have to follow a formula to write a good blog post; however, when you need to publish good, audience-focused content consistently, and a truly committed blogger intent on building a following, would be publishing a post at least bi-weekly or weekly, that can become stressful. Your creative juices will ebb and flow and a listicle can come to the rescue. I’ve included some additional readings and resources below. (And I wasn’t kidding. I do really appreciate you and would love to hear from you if you want to leave me a comment below.)
Resources for Listicles:
Krantz, R. (2016) 8 Tips for Writing a Listicle that Will Get Published, Bustle.com [website]
10 Steps to the Perfect List Post, Problogger, [blog]
How many in the list? Some research from Buzzfeed.