I’m not a huge fan of the “7 Strategies for Success,” “5 Unsupported Claims,” “10 Top Cat Videos” type of article, but I click on them all the time. Heck, sure, I write them from time to time too. What’s up with the lists?
I have no real basis for my claims—which is why they’re perfect for the Internet—but here’s some reasons why I think lists click.
1. Lists are perfect for responding to current events of note. Controversial or casual, either way, lists emphasize the list topic by virtue of the fact that every point connects to the main issue. Lists respond.
2. A numbered list might suggest a short, well-reasoned argument. Or, at the very least, it points to a sustained focus on a topic. If the topic of is of interest then, boom, let’s just click and read a few hundred words.
3. It’s nice to read books, articles, or whatever when we feel like we’ve accomplished something. It’s much more satisfying to put a book down at the end of a chapter than halfway through. Lists give us that feeling of accomplishment over and over again.
4. Even in challenging times, with difficult issues assaulting us from every side, lists remind us that though all else may be lost, we can at least count to ten. (Hey, it’s possible…)
5. Lists welcome curiosity. There’s something about reading a headline of a numbered list that makes me curious to see what’s below. Even if I have relatively little interest in the topic, a list makes me click.
6. When done well, lists make a logical, structured argument from one point to another. They can invite a thoughtful progression on a topic.
7. Lists appeal to our wishes that knowledge might be packaged small, that complex reasoning might be accomplished in a short list of a few hundred words. Yes, lists require clear, concise, compelling language. But I can’t believe they really cause many “aha moments.” So, really, why are you even reading this? Number the reasons.