Fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

That’s the head­line. A listicle must have a head­line be­cause it sets the frame­work for the in­for­ma­tion that will be cov­ered, whether it’s celebrity cats or 14 Things That Look Like Don­ald Trump’s Hair. The head­line should be chatty, so you know it’s not ac­tu­ally news.

The use of num­bers is im­por­tant. First, num­bers have au­thor­ity. They have an unar­gua­bil­ity (that’s not re­ally a word but this is a listicle and so we can do weird stuff). Statis­tics are a de­fin­i­tive state­ment and that’s what you want in a listicle. Also … oh, I’ll do an­other num­ber.

Also, the num­ber should not be 10, 20 or even 50. Not since the 10 Com­mand­ments has life been that tidy. Num­bers that aren’t mul­ti­ples of 10 sound more real, but some are bet­ter than oth­ers. A listicle should not com­prise fewer than five items be­cause that’s just lazy; a num­ber be­tween six and 12 is good for the av­er­age reader; more than 18 is for fans of the sub­ject, and more than 100 is use­ful only for ad­ver­tis­ers.

Re­mem­ber, the num­ber in­di­cates how long it’s go­ing to take to read. It’s an iron-clad prom­ise for short-form jour­nal­ism, and gen­er­ally each num­ber takes 25 sec­onds to read so an eight-num­ber list is about a three-minute read.

The listicle is por­tion con­trol for ad­vice; a hy­brid of the dot-point pre­sen­ta­tions at work and the barks of the per­sonal trainer in the park. You just want the in­for­ma­tion, right?

I was go­ing to ex­pand on that but I thought of an­other rule. The ex­pla­na­tions should be a few sen­tences long. It might be a hy­brid list/ar­ti­cle but it’s more list than ar­ti­cle. The listicle is jour­nal­ism for smart­phones. It is the best ex­am­ple of con­tent adapt­ing to the medium, be­cause no one wants to read War and Peace on their phone. A list won’t tire your thumb or cause you to miss your stop, but it will give you some­thing to talk about at work.

A list is easy to re­mem­ber. You prob­a­bly won’t re­mem­ber all 13 of th­ese points but you will re­mem­ber one or two. And that makes you feel it was worth­while read­ing.

A list does the hard work for read­ers. You won’t miss stuff, you won’t jump to the wrong con­clu­sion, you won’t be way­laid be­fore get­ting to the point. The dot point is the point.

A listicle asks ques­tions that have nagged you but are not im­por­tant enough for you to Google. It won’t change the world but it may change the way you make a cup of tea.

A good listicle is a lit­er­ary map. I’d ex­pand on that but I’m get­ting lazy so I’ll just leave that thought with you.

Al­though the num­bers are cru­cial, they are of­ten ar­bi­trary. The num­ber might just cover the word count an ed­i­tor has given the jour­nal­ist. Some­times the list ends when the writer can’t be both­ered to think of any more.

Speak­ing of which, this piece of fridge mag­net phi­los­o­phy must end now. So I’ll ad­just the num­ber at the top of this listicle (it started off as eight) and end with a thought. Moses had the first list but this won’t be the last. gmail.com

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