By: Marilyn L. Davis
Even Airy-Fairy Chrystal Keeps a List
“Despite her alternative leanings, it turned out Crystal was not particularly psycho-babbly or airy-fairy or tree-huggy, as one might have expected. The first thing she did was to write a list. She said writing lists helped calm her down when she was stressed about anything because it put problems in order.
You can look at a list of things and see how you can tackle each one separately without feeling sick about it, she said. Whereas if they all just stayed jumbled in your mind in one great big sticky ball, you never got to consider them individually.
She actually spoke a lot of sense for someone with toe rings and a Chinese tattoo.” ~Sarah-Kate Lynch, On Top of Everything
My Davis Poll on Lengthy Posts vs. Lists
People are reading differently today. I like to poll friends about their reading and writing habits, so I took one of my random Davis polls and asked friends why they didn’t read lengthy posts. For simplicity’s sake, I defined lengthy as over 1500 words.
One friend told me before I gave him choices that my definition covered why he didn’t read long posts anymore – 1500 words was too many to read for entertainment. I then asked him if he would read that many words for educational purposes or job-related information.
He got quiet and said, “Not if there’s a video or YouTube– this response from a person with a Masters in Early Childhood Education.
Before you get all concerned about his teaching abilities, he’s also been named Teacher of the Year for three years and had stiff competition and criteria. I wanted to explore additional reasons why a list might be more accommodating, so we discussed the advantages, and his rationale was, “Subheadings let me zero in on the parts; lists help me see the components.” Okay, that all makes sense.
Less Interfering with a List
Then I spoke to a friend who is a weekly volunteer reader at one of our local libraries. She’s also like me with books; we use them on our shelves as a Do It Yourself decorating technique. I think mine qualifies more, as they are color coordinated, but that’s just personal bias. Both of us are avid readers, not intimidated by 1000 pages, let alone 1000 words, and her response?
“Marilyn, I just can’t read more than a screen’s worth before something else interferes.”
Well, even I wasn’t expecting that. So I asked her about articles with lists. Her response was what you’d expect, “They’re great; concise and to the point, which means I can read one or two words and explore them later if I want to know more about the topic, or I need additional clarification.”
Lists Narrow the Focus
I was sure that my third friend, an author, and editor of my 400,000-word recovery curriculum, would find something negative to say about lists. Boy, was I wrong. She raved about saving her eyesight, minimizing the risk of using all her brain cells in one sitting, and not feeling guilty when she finished the piece quickly.
“I scan, save my eyesight, and if there’s a list, I zero in, and if it’s information I can use, I will read the remainder.”
Now, if you’re still with me, you’ve read 513 words. I should probably get to the topic of lists before you’re wondering about the video, you run out of viewing space, or your eyes start to water.
1. Be specific as in a Call to Action or Tasks in Order
David Allen, the to-do list guru, suggests writing your task down as an action. If it works, in theory, it works in practice for the writer as well.
If there are no priorities assigned, alphabetize them. All of these reinforce a plan. And people love a well-defined plan of action. They know that B follows A and on through the alphabet. These are built into our thinking since kindergarten and if there are necessary steps to accomplish something, use numbers that reinforce order.
2. When we use “list” in our title, readers know what to expect
If we give them a number, well, they know whether they’re getting the condensed list – 3 Ways To…, 13 Holiday Cookies They’ll All Love, or the Mega List variety – 31 Treats for October.
And there’s data that shows that 10 is the magic number for titles. However, if you’re writing a “best of” list, the number 25 tops all.
3. Lists also do well on social media
The best titles shared included the following numbers: 10, 16, 23, and 24. List posts and infographics also receive more shares than other content types, and when you include more ideas via the lists, they are easy to read or skim.
4. People’s eyes are drawn to bullet points and numbers
When you give your readers lists, they can zero in on that information. Once they determine that it’s information they are interested in, they will often start over at the beginning of your article. This is true even if they skipped the content first and went directly to the bullet points or numbers.
5. A list is a common form of communication
Whether groceries, car parts, or agenda items for your meeting, we are a nation of list makers. Write posts to us in a format we understand, and we’ll stay with you.
6. Deliver on each list point you promised in your title
If you write, “25 Excellent and Extraordinary Ways”, don’t start repeating at 19. I’ll know if you’re giving me filler, and I’ll leave – so will everyone else.
Storytelling is a great way to entertain and engage the reader. I’ve told you the story of three friends. If you’re uncertain whether storytelling is appropriate for your topic, leave it out and get to the nuts and bolts with bullet points and numbers. If you’re not willing to risk losing a reader with content, start your list at the beginning of your article, and insert the story midway.
7. Starting lists with a gerund (words ending in “ing”)
Gerunds read more direct than a passive “to be” of the verb. In my book reviewing example, I used gerunds.
8. Lists allow writers room to explain, then expand
1) State the problem
2) Define the solutions
3) Ask readers for their comments on how they can either relate or use the intent of your post. I recently used S.M.A.R.T. to describe reaching recovery goals. Other readers then elaborated and changed the words associated with S.M.A.R.T. to show how they reached their recovery goals.
9. Include Hyperbole and You with your list title
Hyperbole works with numbered lists, too. The number is finite, and the descriptor is infinite. It’s exaggerated.
- 8 Amazing Tips for Your Blogging Best
- 3 Excellent Methods for Attracting Readers
- 7 Ways You’ll Always Rank on Google
10. Lists with action steps reinforce doing something
If you give us boxes to check off, we can feel productive in the process. Recipes, fixing something, how-to, and product reviews benefit from lists. For example, writing a book review has these eight steps:
1) Reading the book
2) Presenting the book in 1-5 sentences
3) Bringing in the author with an introduction in 1-10 sentences
4) Condensing the book to no more than 7-10 sentences
5) Describing what you liked about the book in 2-6 sentences
6) Explaining what you didn’t like about the book in 2-6 sentences
7) Either endorsing the book or not in 1-3 sentences
8) Linking to the book or author’s page
Now I’m ready to send out another questionnaire to friends on the value of images and what speaks to them. I know it will include a list and how-to for you. Stay tuned.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing
Lists work everywhere. For instance, we’re looking for submissions, so I’ll let you know, in a list, what we want in a submission.
- What tips do you have for readers and writers?
- Do you write poetry that enchants?
- Have you written a short fiction piece that will entertain us?
Then consider a guest post at Two Drops of Ink. Here are the guidelines.