5 ways to harness the list obsession

I just got an email from the Oxfam shop. 5 tips for a happier Christmas. They may be selling fair trade goats, but they understand the power of a numbered list.

These lists are everywhere.

6 ways to better blogging.

Top 5 inspirational songs for joggers.

Ten ways to find more ways.

Over at Copyblogger.com (an insanely popular content marketing blog) 17 of their 30 most popular posts are lists. Granted, these lists can sometimes seem a little patronizing and superficial but the avalanche of comments, shares and likes makes it hard to deny their effectiveness. They give good list.

In a world beset by ‘content fatigue’ it’s not hard to understand the obession. Even smart people who like to read are struggling. We just want an expert to sift through the debris and uncover the gems for us. A list is comforting—it promises a finite solution to complex problems.

If this technique works so well for bloggers and content marketers, maybe it’s time for writers in other professions to join the party. Whether you’re an academic writing-up a PhD or a CEO tendering for a contract, you are in the business of selling ideas—so, it may pay to take a lesson from the list makers.

As a technical communicator, I could restructure my content like this:

Yes, it’s a little extreme but you get the picture. Putting a number in at least some of the titles would make the tasks seem more digestible.

Meanwhile, the process of prioritizing and ranking serves to sharpen my writing. Which concepts are the most important? Can I find out which shortcuts are the most popular? Can I be the expert who digs through the muck and sniffs out the truffles?

And, if someone decides to share my content with their social network, then the list style increases its chances of going viral (add that one to Five dreams that probably won’t come true).

Oh, and my number one tip? Buy a goat.

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