Thoughts From the Shower The Official Media Shower Blog

The 5 Keys to Writing a Killer List Article

From “11 Handy Housework Tips” to “The Top 6 Ways to Eat Lettuce,” the Internet is stuffed with more list articles than than funny cat pictures—and that’s saying something.

Why is this? Well one reason is because, quite frankly, the whole cat thing is getting old. But more than that it’s because list articles work. Whether it’s an informative set of tips or a sidesplitting collection of pictures or videos, the list path often leads to traffic gold. But how do you get started? And how do you make it the most effective article possible? The answers lie within.

1. Look For A Unique Angle
A good list article starts with the title. Of course anybody can run down a list of consumer products or characters in movies—all that takes is a few minutes on Wikipedia and a WordPress account. But for your piece to pop, look for a take on your subject that’s different. For example, if you’re writing about auto insurance and want to draw attention, you might write about what it would cost to insure the most famous cars in the movies, or talk about whether or not the cars in famous car chases would be totaled.

Sadly, Herbie always seemed to escape total  destruction.

2. Focus On the Positive
It’s can be easy to rag on certain targets (sorry Herbie), but no matter what people say, more readers gravitate towards the upbeat rather than the negative. An article spewing nonstop snark will come off as mean-spirited and bullying, driving away readers and even worse, keeping them from recommending your article to their friends. Look to develop ideas that are positive and engaging. Brightening someone’s day, whether by making them laugh or making them think, tends to bring you more readers.

3. Concision, Always Concision
One of the key appeals of list articles is that they’re overviews of a topic that can be quickly read and absorbed; a method to get the basics of a topic whether it’s the key features of a new technology or the lamest villains in a comic book. List articles naturally have subheads that break up the article, so it’s not a wall of text, but under each point you make, ask yourself if you’re as concise as you can be on the topic. Remember that you can always include links for more detail, so if something catches your reader’s eye, they can click on a link and dig deeper.

Hervé Villechaize: another great example of shorter being better.

4. Take A Second To Clarify Technical Or Obscure Terms
Similarly, unless you’re writing for a narrow audience, avoid inside jargon and technical terms, or at least take a quick moment to explain what it means. Metaphors, in particular, are very useful for explaining even arcane or weird concepts. For example, if I were talking about mobile computing, I might explain the concept of a “system-on-a-chip”, or SoC, as a “one-stop shop” for processing on the phone, or as the phone’s brain.

5. Serious Doesn’t Mean Dry
Not every topic is profoundly serious, but you may often find yourself writing on serious topics, or find yourself writing something where humor is either tricky or will be frowned upon. That doesn’t mean that you have to be dry. Consider a more conversational tone; if you were explaining this concept or running down this list to a friend over coffee, how would you do it? Material is dry not because it’s not funny but because it’s badly paced and fails to engage. If a reader can hear your “voice” they’ll be much more invested in the article.

If your article is drier than this, consider a rewrite.

List articles are not only fun to write, they’re also the Internet’s equivalent of really shiny worms on a hook. If you’re ready to cast your line for readers, you now know all about the bait. Happy fishing.

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