I am literally amazed at the amount of listing that’s done on the web. I came across this today and I was thought wow people on the internet only want things in lists. Information in a web environment is bite sized non-meaty chunks that is enough to chew on but not really a complete meal. Then again, staring at a computer monitor for an hour at a time isn’t that helpful either. Why are we so attracted to the list? I hate LISTS! Yet when I want an answer I want it in a simple, straight-forward, no-nonsense way that … well is in a list. Perhaps it’s the modern trend towards information overload that is causing this phenomena. Who knows? All one has to do is check out the popular page of delicious or stumble upon to see what I mean. It really doesn’t matter why lists are so popular what matters is that it’s there and you had better become good at writing lists or else you make never make the front page of delicious. A person I admire very deeply uses lists in his academic papers and I find them easy to read. I may have a personal problem with lists but their effectiveness cannot be denied. A case in point: two of the most viewed articles on my blog are this one about presentations and this one about strategic thinking. Both of them are presented as lists… but are probably more likely a list of propositions. So here goes: 6 ways to write a list.
1. Find a topic you know a lot about and break it down
When you know a lot about something you have come to conclusions through a learning process. When you reach the apex of any learning process you are able to articulate in one sentence what something is all about. You will then be able to say, “four keys to writing powerful letters,” or “how to make your budget stretch further with penny pinching.” If you take a topic like problem solving as another example, I can break down problem solving into: Identification/Appreciation, Design/Solutions, Implementation, Reflection. This is now the Houghton four step process of problem solving. Of course, it’s Herbert Simon’s and I would be a plagiarist to suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, you can make a really effective list by taking a topic and breaking it down. Say you like creative thinking and only have a limited space to communicate: what it is you want to say? How’s this for a good example? You can explain the topic of creative thinking or you can break it down into easy to understand steps so everybody can get your meaning. Would you rather have eggheads only? Or actual people? The choice is yours. I should remind you at this point that less than 1% of people (at least in Australia) are interested in post graduate education. Hmm.
2. Take a learning experience and break it down into small pieces
Did you have a terrible experience doing something? John Chow’s amusing post on how he got banned from digg is not a list per se but look at the systematic way he explains his troubles in that article. I submitted the article, it was banned, they don’t look like unbanning it. That is basic list writing. Compare that with this: about blogging income . It’s not a numbered list as such but the way in which the earnings are presented is in list writing style. More specific lists describing experiences that I have used for example include this on success and this on the fundamentals of budgeting. Lists are not just numbered or bulleted points. It’s a way of writing that lays out in minimalist detail what the reader can expect from the article topic. List writing is a way of communicating key points in a limited space in a rigid simplistic manner. Used properly it’s quite powerful. Have you had a bad experience? Break it down to key events and explain it that way. It will make it short, concise and will omit needless words!
3. Make a favourites list of applications, tools, devices or life hacks
Are you an avid fan of Web 2.0 related tools? Well these people are. They have made a list of their favorite web 2.0 tools. What about blogging? Do you like certain groups or niches of blogs. PC World have 100 favourite blogs they admire. Domain names your thing? What about open source? In these cases we are taking something previously disconnected and putting it together via list. By the way most of the stuff of the delicious popular page is a either an aggregate list or close to it.
4. Make a hate list
This fellow has strong opinions against movie commercials. Note the list in the middle of the article. Brilliant! What about Google, Yahoo or something else? All really good examples of how people voice their hatred in a concise specific terminology that’s is expedient in delivery. After all this is the age of open critique is it not?
5. Find a bunch of niche stuff and cram it into a list
How’s this for a good example. They have taken a bunch of related “niche” stuff and put it into a meaningful list. A good practice. This is a bit more art than science because it involves knowing what a group of people need at once. The niche stuff could include a variety of things from many different parts of the web. More often than not I would say these lists are specific to an application area for a specific group. Such as fiction writers (like me*cough*).
6. Write a how to list
Okay so this is just me extending the first to something more specific. How to lists are not just specific they are laser targeted. A how to list is really a recipe to follow for doing something that you think a lot of people need to do. How to make money blogging or how bloggers make money are two examples that are frequently cited. What if you wanted to build a car or perhaps lose weight. Just about anything you like has made the how to/productivity tips short list. Even how to talk backwards. A word of warning, people are not stupid, write a how to list that makes sense!
One downside to list making is that it’s a simple form of communication and much richness is lost. However, if the writing is of a decent standard the points made should provoke reflective thinking and hopefully ask rhetorical questions. If a short sharp jab to the guts is all you’re after however, then a blunt 30 point list is what you need. A closing note I recently had a hand in writing this paper with some colleagues of mine and we have a huge problem getting it published. So we changed the title to what it is now. Then, it was accepted without further delay. People, from all walks of life love lists!
Powered by MightyAdsense