Readers can’t resist a list.
Lists “are to the web reader’s eye what Brad Pitt is to the paparazzi,” says Kara Pernice, Kathryn Whitenton and Jakob Nielsen, the authors of How People Read on the Web. “You just can’t get enough.”
That’s because lists draw the eye in and make the job of skimming easier. Indeed, according to Pernice, Whitenton and Nielson, web visitors look at 70 percent of the bulleted lists they encounter.
Here’s how to write lists posts that get the word out and boost your content marketing analytics:
1. Got a list? List it. Lists are easier to read and scan than paragraphs. So if you have a series of three or more items in a sentence, paragraph or passage, make it a list.
2. Organize lists logically. Choose the right structure:
- Alphabetical structure is best for glossaries, for instance.
- Chronological structure is the right choice for a series of steps. (As everyone who’s ever put together an Ikea bedside table well knows.)
- Hierarchical structure works best for top 10 lists.
3. Take advantage of the first and last items on the list. Nielsen says that the first few items get the most attention, the middle gets the least attention and the final item is somewhere in the middle. So save the best for first and last.
The serial item on a list may also benefit from the “recency effect.” This principle, coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus, says that items presented last will most likely be remembered best.
So if you’re creating a hierarchical list, consider an hourglass-shaped structure: Start with the most important items, bury the least important items in the middle, then end with the second- or third-most important item.
4. Show the parts. To reach flippers and skimmers, lift the items of your list off the page or screen with bold-faced lead-ins.
5. Display the whole. But what’s that a list of? Show flippers and skimmers what the list is about with a subhead.
6. Lead with the verb. Does your list feature instructions or benefits? Start the items on your list with a verb to inspire interest and action.
7. Make lists parallel. To write parallel lists, set up an intro line that says something like “To save for the future …” Then in your head, include that line before each bold-faced lead-in:
- (To save for the future,) Join …
- (To save for the future,) Contribute …
- (To save for the future,) Consider …
- (To save for the future,) Increase …
- (To save for the future,) Invest …
8. Don’t include too many items... “Do not use more bullets than you get in a six-shooter,” recommends Rick Norton in Online Writing Digest. Tip: If your article looks like a PowerPoint deck, you might have overused bullets points.
9. …But also don’t include too few. One item is an item. Two are a couple. It takes three items to make a list.
10. Punctuate. If your list is built on full sentences, then add a period to the end of each. Otherwise, skip the punctuation. The bullets stand in for semicolons and commas separating items in your series.
Copyright © 2019 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.
Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services at WylieComm.com. Get more of Ann’s tips at FreeWritingTips.WylieComm.com. Email: ann@WylieComm.com
Get Clicked, Shared & Liked: Want more techniques for writing content marketing messages that engage readers and boost analytics? Join PRSA and Ann Wylie for “Get Clicked, Shared & Liked,” a two-day content-writing Master Class, on Feb. 5-6 in Durham, N.C.