How to Write Listicles That Stand Out
Writing listicles makes you a hack. If you resort to them, you’re not a real writer.
That’s what some writers say. They’ll look down on you for your lack of artistic integrity. You know what I think? Screw those people. I can write better than 90 percent of those pretentious snobs. I can teach you to do the same.
Many readers swear they hate reading them. I say they’re the best method you can use to consistently write blog posts people want to read.
Most writers who think they are above using traditional blogging techniques have no audience. Of course, they blame the readers instead of looking in the mirror. You don’t have to write listicles to succeed.
There are some writers who never try writing them and burst onto the scene with their own unique style. If you’re one of those people, great. If not, consider giving listicles a try.
You don’t have to write them forever, but they’re a great gateway to learning how to write more esoteric content over time and you’ll have an audience who wants to read your more nuanced work.
Benefits of Writing Listicles
Mark Manson, the best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***, which has sold more than 3 million copies, writes listicles. I first learned the power of writing listicles from observing Brianna Wiest back when I wrote at Thought Catalog. She’s a powerhouse writer with multiple best-selling books and millions of readers per year.
All of these writers can write their assess off.
A lot of people tell me I’m a pretty decent writer myself. I learned how to become a better writer via listicles. Traditional blogging techniques build a bridge to higher quality writing and they help you build an audience that helps you find success as a writer.
Your words are a product and listicles show you how to package them the right way. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of writing them.
Readers Are Lying
A great rule of thumb for life in general, don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do. People complain about listicles all the time, but data shows listicles are the most popular form of blog content.
From the study:
Lists posts are heavily shared on social media. List posts get an average of 218% more shares than “how to” posts and 203% more shares than infographics.
Listicles work if you write them the right way. Readers get jaded because most of them are really bad. Admit it, you read listicles from time to time. You do it because they’re an easy click and you hope they might be good. Every once and a while you’re surprised at how good they are. I’ll show you how to write list posts that achieve the effect.
It’s Hard to Get Good Without Mastering the Basics
Most beginning writers need a framework to use or else they won’t write anything good. They just spew words out on the page with no coherent structure. When you write this way, it’s much harder to piece together your thoughts. Your articles will be harder to edit. Overall, you will produce less content.
You don’t need to become someone who churns out content to be successful, but you need to be consistent. Most successful bloggers write at least two articles per week. Most new bloggers don’t get any momentum because they never build a proper writing habit or their articles are so jumbled they never bring themselves to publish them.
Listicles Give You What Most Writers Are In Desperate Need Of
I’ve written thoughtful essays that I’m really proud of. I’ve touched on topics that go outside of my normal niche of self-improvement. These days, I feel that I can write in many different styles and compete with the top writers in the field. I’m confident in my writing skills. I’m not ‘just a blogger.
Writing a bunch of listicles gave me confidence.
They helped me attract an audience. When people read your writing, you’re inspired to write more. By first using a formulaic approach, I found my unique writing voice. Trust me on this, use some traditional techniques for now and you’ll grow down the road.
How to Research and Write Listicles People Want to Read
This process takes time. You don’t always have to use it, but in the beginning, taking time to slow down and research before you write will pay dividends down the road.
First, you have to come up with a headline for your piece. To come up with headlines, practice writing ten of them every single day. Eventually, you’ll have a well full of good ideas to use and you can pick the one you want to run with for your writing session.
Once you have a list-post headline ready to go, you can make your post stand out if you do a bit of extra research before you sit down to write your piece.
Here’s what you do:
- Take the headline of your post and put it into Google
- Read the top 3-5 results from start to finish
- Take note of the similarities and differences between each of the articles
You’re essentially looking for the tried and true points that seem to be in every single article. You’ll want to include something similar in your posts. But then, also, you’re looking for areas of weakness and ways to differentiate your posts from what’s already out there.
Maybe you notice that some of the top articles are too fluffy and missing crucial information. Maybe you think you can outperform those posts by adding data, statistics, and studies to back up your claim. Or you could see the posts have good information, but don’t resonate emotionally. This is an intuitive process you’ll get a feel for overtime.
After you’ve done this, you’ll be ready to come up with a list of ideas to use in your post.
Here’s what you do next:
- Brainstorm a list of points for your article that’s three times longer than the number of points you actually need. Don’t judge yourself at this point, just free flow.
- Cross off the obviously bad points you see in your original list.
- Make a second pass and eliminate ideas until you’re left with a set of rock-solid ideas you can use in your post — a combination of proven points people are looking for and unique ideas they haven’t seen elsewhere
Next, it’s time to write your post:
- Using your final list of points, create a mind-map to flesh out the ideas underneath each point (check this post out for an in-depth look at the process)
- Write your first draft and make sure that each point includes 200-300 words per point for depth (this guide shows you how to write the first draft freakishly fast)
- Use a three-step editing system to finish your draft. First pass, look at the whole structure to see if it makes sense, and seek to cut 25 percent of the article. Second pass, fill in the gaps and have a solid draft. Third, make the final touches
I just gave you a framework you can use over and over again to write articles with viral potential. It’s one of the frameworks I teach in my paid program, provided to you for free right now. The question is, will you use it?
Thinking and hesitation kill your creativity. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, actively try to conjure it. When you learn to use a process first, it gets easier to freestyle down the road. These days, I can just sit down and write an article from scratch, no outlines. I can do that because I’ve wired the process so deep into my memory I can spit out polished work without thinking.
Listicles With Style: How to Add Flair to Your Blog Posts
You want your listicles to be a pleasant surprise.
I’ve heard the same comment from many readers over and over again:
I was expecting this to be just another useless listicle, but it was surprisingly good.
Most writing falls flat and most readers are looking for an excuse to click away from your article instantly. There’s a ton of content online, they’re distracted, and there are tons of other things that are more fun than reading an article.
But people still read stuff online because they’re looking for someone to wake them from their slumber. My blogging mentor, Jon Morrow put it well:
The common characteristic that binds [readers] all together: They’re bored out of their minds. Just look at their eyes. They’re not even there. Somewhere along the way, their mind and heart and soul drifted off to sleep, and their body is operating on autopilot, keeping them alive until something interesting happens. If that’s not upsetting enough, here’s one more cold, hard truth:
These people are our readers!
There are a lot of different techniques you can use to write a listicle with style. Something people remember and want to share. People have saved my articles and printed them out to come back to over and over again. Here are some of the techniques I’ve used to create that effect.
Use the Book-End Technique
You want your strongest, most unique, or most controversial points to come at the beginning and the end of the article. When you were doing your research to find unique points that stand out, use the most unique point first.
This creates a pattern interruption. Most people expect to see something they’ve already read before. If you can break that expectation, you have their attention. Take a look at this example from a popular post I wrote a while back.
Start With a Bang, or a Twist, or Dig in the Knife
You want your posts to start with a bang. The intro is all about capturing attention. You can achieve that by starting off with an opening sentence that packs a punch. Check this one out from my personal favorite master of intros, James Altucher:
Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it. Nobody would talk to me for more than thirty seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours.
Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “the girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.” We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.
This intro comes from a post about writing tips of all things. Talk about a pattern interruption.
You can also do well with intros by trying to anticipate what your reader thinks and say it first. This is called pacing and leading. In general, if you focus on the hopes and aspirations or fears and frustrations, you’ll come up with something to say that connects with your reader.
End the Same Way
You also want to end your posts in a way that makes your readers want to come back for more. You can the ‘motivational close’ that gives your reader a rallying cry and inspires them to action. Or you can tie your conclusion to the intro in a unique way. Again, James does this really well (from the same post above):
Sanket didn’t want to go to grad school after we graduated. He had another plan. Lets go to Thailand, he said. And become monks in a Buddhist monastery for a year. We can date Thai women whenever we aren’t begging for food, he said. It will be great and we’ll get life experience.
It sounded good to me.
But then he got accepted to the University of Wisconsin and got a PhD. Now he lives in India and works for Oracle. And as for me…
I don’t know what the hell happened to me.
You can do a simple and succinct recap of what you wrote in the post. There are many ways to achieve the desired effect being mindful of your conclusion in the first place helps you achieve it.
Credibility is key. Adding credibility markers to your writing makes you look more credible in the eyes of your readers. This is especially true if you’re writing non-fiction advice articles.
You can add credibility by quoting famous, influential, and thoughtful people. You’re not a hack for using borrowed wisdom. You’re smart because you understand that all wisdom is borrowed. Maria Popova and Shane Parrish built 7 figure blogs mainly by expanding on things people much smarter than them already said.
Data, statistics, and studies build credibility with the ‘what’s your source?’ types. This also looks good in the eyes of search engines or editors on websites like Medium.
The Part I Can’t Exactly Teach You How to Do
This last part you have to figure out on your own. When you write, you just have to look for ways to push the envelope. I’m always thinking of ways I can make a listicle seem like more than just a listicle. Sometimes I’ll ‘go there’ and say things other writers aren’t willing to say. I use stories from my own life because nobody can copy my experiences.
Over the years, I settled into my style — punchy, brash, even abrasive at times. I developed this style by practicing my writing pretty much every single day for the past six years. In the end, there’s no shortcut to becoming a good writer.
From Crappy Listicles to Life-Changing Writing
Listicles helped me make a full-timing living writing. They helped me become the top-earning writer on Medium for six months straight. They taught me how to become a better thinker. I’ve used them to connect with readers all across the world.
People have reached out to me and told me my listicles have helped them start businesses, comforted them in times of pain, given them hope, inspired them to do things they’ve been putting off for years, find a real sense of meaning and purpose. And writing those listicles helped me do all of those things, too.
That’s the thing about writing. You benefit just as much as your readers do. You can use your writing to heal, inspire, and provide meaning to yourself. Building a writing career is one of the most rewarding endeavors. So many people want to be writers, few ever get the job done.
So, which way is it? Are you going to scoff at the techniques and remain a writer with no money, no fans, and unfulfilled dreams? Or are you going to listen to someone who’s walked the path already?
I think you know the right answer.