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