What Makes Listicles So Effective?

Long-form content is becoming less and less common thanks to the emergence of the listicle. Believe it or not, this form of writing that combines list and article format has been around since long before the advent of the internet. Some experts traced the form back to the 11th century, when a woman named Sei Shonagon in Japan created a book of poetry and observations in list form.

Regardless of where or when listicles began, there’s no denying their popularity today. But why is writing content in a list format more attractive than elegant and well-written prose? Check out these six reasons to find out.

They Have Catchy Headlines

A good listicle never gives away its information in the title. This is what pulls so many people in and forces them to read through the piece to find the answer that the title posed.

One 2009 study that looked at how readers responded to newspaper headlines found that people always liked creative and uninformative headlines — just like those of listicles and clickbait. These headlines were ideal because they piqued the readers’ interest just enough to read more. A good listicle always uses a title that makes readers desperate to find a new solution, fact, or reason for a problem or situation. Even if you have no personal interest in a topic, a listicle curates that interest and satisfies your desires to learn more.

They Help Us Deal With Information Overload

creating a list on a laptop

Image via Flickr by MadFishDigital

There’s more information than ever floating around in the world. With thousands of fresh pieces being posted daily, there’s no way even the most voracious consumer could get to it all. Therefore, your brain is drawn to content that’s simple and organized — such as a listicle.

While listicles aren’t a replacement for in-depth journalism or reports, they can help you learn more about the most important parts of difficult or boring topics without having to dive into a thousand-word feature article. You’ll get the information you need without being bogged down. A listicle that covers the same points as a blog post will take less time to read, and you’ll have a better chance of remembering key facts.

They Accommodate Our Spacial Processing

Listicles are easy to read quickly, which is important for the increasingly fast pace of the modern world. What makes them easy to read is that they take into account our preference for processing information spatially. Our minds crave organization, even if it’s on a subconscious level. This is pretty obvious when you think about how much people categorize things in their lives. From size to color to shape, it’s hard to look at an object and not immediately start placing it in a category.

The human brain works this way to help people understand and then recall that information later. Therefore, reading things that are organized into short lists rather than long paragraphs is far more intuitive. Each piece of information is categorized so that your brain doesn’t have to work overtime to try and figure out where it fits into the bigger picture.

They Are More Pleasing to Read

Nothing will be able to replace a beautifully written piece of content. However, listicles can be just as beautiful in their own way. A 2011 study done by two psychologists found that listicles can help us eliminate the paradox of choice that so often confines our decision making. When you have to think too much about processing certain information, it ruins the experience.

The best part of a listicle is that it has an identifiable beginning, middle, and end. The introduction establishes what the content is about, the predetermined numbered items give us the info you crave without leading you on, and the conclusion finishes off the ideas. Instead of wondering when an article will be finished, you’ll know exactly how much you have left in a listicle because the points are numbered. Once you reach the end, you’ll get a positive sense of completing something.

They Help Us Remember

Changes to the modern world are actually affecting the way humans remember information. In the past, a lot of information was conveyed orally, meaning that there was no chance to go back and reread it. People had to remember it right away.

Today, anything can be quickly looked up with a Google search. Because of that, experts believe that humans have limited focus when it comes to memory. In general, people can remember about four things at a time. However, unless you do something with these four things to cement them in your brain, you’ll quickly forget them.

Listicles do just that. Often, the points repeat or build on each other, helping you replay the information so it sticks in your head.

They’re Easy to Share

When you read a great piece of content, you want to share it with friends and family so they can read it too. However, if you post a long editorial on a heavy subject, you’re probably not going to get many interactions. People simply don’t have the time or interest to reach something so in-depth. Plus, they’re being bombarded with so many posts from other people that there’s a low chance your content will stand out.

If you post a listicle on the same subject, you’re much more likely to get comments and shares. Your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks will see the eye-catching headline, get a good idea of how long the article is from the number listed, and be more willing to take the plunge.

If your goal is to reach as many people as possible with your content, you might want to consider switching to the listicle format. While articles and editorials are perfect for in-depth thought pieces, listicles reign supreme for most other subjects. Whether you’re discussing the top seven ways to cook pasta or the five best new cars on the market, listicles are probably the most interesting and eye-catching way to do it.

About the author

Kristy Snyder

Kristy Snyder is a professional writer and editor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her areas of focus include health and wellness, technology, travel, and more. When she's not being a purveyor of words, she enjoys reading, traveling, playing hockey, watching TV, hiking, yoga, and drinking beer.