Top 10 Reasons to Avoid Writing Top 10 Lists

Lists

We are in the throes of a dangerous epidemic, a disease that has spread throughout the blogosphere. It has reached every corner, every nook, every cranny of online writing: the dreaded top-10 list. Yuck!

Sure there’re times when it makes sense to write some sort of list, when one wants to succinctly communicate a few quick points. Or if you’re trying to be ironic. I’ve in fact written a few tongue-in-cheek lists myself: e.g., The Short, 16-Step Guide to Getting Rid of Your Crap31 Somewhat Brief, Somewhat Banal Personal Things You May or May Not Know About Me; and Create Your Masterpiece, a 16-Step Guide.

But most lists are vapid, trivial, lifeless things created to aggregate eyeballs, not engage in a meaningful conversation with the reader. Henceforth, in my ongoing effort to save the blogging world from poor writing, I’ve declared war on top-whatever lists (this goes for bulleted lists too; I’m looking at you blogs about blogging).

Here’re 10(ish) reasons why I’ve decided to declare war on the pitiful top-10 list:

1. Lists assume that readers are stupid. Websites that constantly use lists are often attempting to spoon-feed content to readers, assuming their readers don’t have the competence—the intellectual wherewithal—to feed themselves.

2. Lists assume that readers are lazy. The list-writer thinks that readers aren’t willing to put in the effort to read something more challenging, so they instead aim for the lowest common denominator. Good readers aren’t lazy, but…

3. List-writers are lazy. Because lists are formulaic, they inherently lack variety. And thus they’re pretty easy to write. A monkey on a electric typewriter could whip up half a dozen lists on a bad day.

4. Lists lack substance. They are soundbite-ish things that’ll blow away with the next strong wind (or the next top-X blog post).

5. Lists don’t contain a pay-off. They are ephemeral, lacking long-term value. There’s no pot o’ gold at the end of the list rainbow (due mostly to #3 above). Think about it: when is the last time that a non-ironic top-10 list left an indelible, lasting impression on you?

6. Lists don’t tell the whole story. Imagine if Fitzgerald would’ve written Gatsby in list form. Yikes!

7. Lists contain empty calories. They’re like candy: one or two pieces are fine, but if you read nothing but bulleted lists, your cultural and intellectual health will suffer.

8. Lists are better utilized elsewhere. There’s a reason we call it a grocery list, a to-do list, Craigslist.

9. Lists contain unnecessary items. To fill the page, people’ll often add extra points—superfluous points like this one and the next one—to expand their lists.

10. Fill in the blank. I’ll let you comment below as to why lists are bad (or good), because most lists don’t actually let you fill in the blank. In fact, they tend to leave little room for cerebration of any kind.

1 Comment

  1. February 27, 2013 - Reply

    Thank you for this article. You nailed exactly what has been bothering me about the massive surge in listicles (great term, Adam!) on many of the sites that I read, particularly when offering advice. While I appreciate a writer summarizing in such a way that I actually have time to read the piece, I want something that has some substance and discussion of deeper principles with it, not a batch of "advice bites." Even if we are discussing something straightforward like better resumes, a more in-depth discussion of changes in resume presentation and the business climate is helpful. A deeper discussion not only leaves that lasting impression of the article you spoke about, but it also provides a stronger mental framework for the process of updating my resume. I don’t know about other people, but I need context if I am ever going to form a decent mental "map" of a process.

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