If you’ve read an article online recently, chances are it was a listicle:
plural noun: listicles
an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list.
’10 Summer Must-Haves’, ‘The 5 Best Places to Brunch,’ etc., etc. They’re invading the internet and avalanching the Facebook home feed, and I am oh so over them. Sure, when they first appeared four years ago they seemed fun and novel, a quick and easy way to present opinions or information that required little intellectual input from the reader. Now, they are the norm and, to put it frankly, tedious.
As a writer, I resent the listicle because it’s a lazy, but effective method of meeting a deadline and racking up the word count. Of course, in some situations, such as lighter toned, or product-based articles, such presentation may be well suited to the subject matter. There is also no denying the fact that this easy to read format is drawing in a younger audience, which may be used to acquaint them with, for instance, news stories in a way they can immediately understand. The problem is that writers are now copy-pasting the listicle template regardless of the topic.
Literature, for example, does not necessitate a listicle-‘Shakespeare’s 5 Most Feisty Females’? Come. On. My complaint is not geared towards the style itself, but its application. Surely, the aforementioned article is far better suited to an academic style of writing and presentation, wherein each paragraph would discuss a certain female character, with cross comparisons throughout and a strong conclusion to tie everything together at the end. However much it pains me to simplify such a literary giant, I totally get it. One of the hardest tasks when writing an academic essay is to connect each paragraph to another and maintain a coherent article throughout. The listicle removes such needs, in its nature it is brief and snappy, with each numbered paragraph self contained, and acceptably separate from the previous one.
Moreover, in the modern world where almost everyone from age ten plus owns a smart-phone, which is constantly glanced at throughout the day, listicles suit the lifestyle. Their lack of complexity makes them extremely easy to read, or scan, when waiting for a friend to show up to lunch, or the bus to arrive. In short, they perfectly fit the fast-paced, instantaneous expectations of the western world. With a listicle, you know what to expect, the title lays it out immediately, ’10 Fail-Safe Diet Secrets’, the language is intended to lure you in, and the layout is familiar, while still providing you with new information, in easily digestible chunks. This is probably why everyone from notably Buzz feed, to Forbes have dabbled in listicles: they are instant click-bait, and thus bring in the much needed traffic to your site.
So, I’m not anti-listicles, I am only anti-laziness, and pro-informed decision making. Write a list, when it is appropriate, but don’t use it as an easy way out of thinking and planning. Choose the format based on the content, rather than be driven by a deadline and maintain the variety. Writing is a creative act, and show be a delight and a surprise in every instance, so please don’t turn it into a formulaic, fashionable, thoughtless act. And please, world, understand that this may be an instance of ‘too much of a good thing’, when we come to the point where all obvious topics have been covered, so ’10 Reasons to Believe Brochures’ comes up on the first page of the google search ’10 Reasons’, something must be wrong.
Instead of breaking up your argument with a listicle format, why not try introducing visuals such as photos within your text. Or, throw in a bullet-point list every so often when dealing with figures or facts. Thoughtful sub-headings are just as effective as numbered paragraphs, so pay particular attention when dividing up your ideas. Additionally, please bear in mind that whilst listicles and easy to read articles may seem to be taking over the internet, the audience is capable of reading other styles of articles, understanding them and perhaps even musing on them afterwards. Don’t be afraid to write how you want to, and explore other methods of presenting information, even if it is of the light-hearted variety. Let your creative juices flow, and don’t bow to the norm. After all, had Shakespeare thought like that, we would be not only without some of the greatest works of English literature, but without many words in the English language. Just something to think about.