March 06, 2015 / by Niki Madison

Infinite…the length of the love that Hazel Grace Lancaster has for Augustus Waters in The Fault In Our Stars. Also, the amount of lists one can find online right now.

From Cosmopolitan‘s rosters of 25 suggested ways to enhance one’s relationship, to Pitchfork’s yearly compilation of the 50 best albums, lists have become a frequently employed editorial format. In fact, this new media writing method has become so popular, it is now dubbed the “listicle” or list-article.

With the increased use of the Internet as a primary source of information, media professionals need to grab their audiences’ attention quickly and present information concisely. Listicles fill that void, and provide a way to present information in an easily readable, organized structure. Inasmuch as they are often thought of as a means of presenting entertainment and lifestyle content, media professionals from various industries are employing the listicle to spread their editorial messages.

Unlike sitting through a certain never-ending movie franchise, the listicle makes reading content as fast and as furious as the reader desires. They are “taking in as much content as possible with the least amount of time,” Amanda M. Orson, director of communications for said.

Elise Ridley, a New York-based freelance journalist and public relations professional, feels that listicles also allow the reader to have more control.

“If it’s the choice between ‘5 Easy Tips’ or ’35 Amazing Facts…’ the reader can determine how much time they can devote to reading,” Ridley said.

According to SEO/PPC specialist Caitlin Gustafson of  WebTalent Marketing, the popularity of listicles stems from the fact that the writing method helps readers find contact quickly. “Listicles allow consumers to skim content quickly and find the most relevant information for their needs – something other editorial content may not always offer.”

It is obvious that listicles are a popular way to capture the reader’s attention, but do they provide reach to a significant audience? Or more importantly, should they?

Here’s a good example:

Several children of the ’90s want to know “17 Reasons Kimmy Gibbler Was The Baddest B****h of The 90s.” However, outside of the small demographic of Full House fans that need to feel validated for seeing the wacky neighbor as a role model, that particular article has a limited reach. That’s good! Opening up to broader audiences may not be the result needed from a listicle.


Orson found that the most shared article on is “9 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Engineers.” Heather Taylor, a freelance writer for lifestyle blog HelloGiggles, finds that listicle readers often want to be reminded of special memories.

“We’re reading it to see how the writer interprets the content, surprises us — ideally with a nugget of knowledge we didn’t already know —  and rings true to our inner nostalgic,” Taylor said.

That  specialized audience often produces greater amounts of audience engagement.

“It comes down to time and interest – people are short on both. Listicles address that problem,” Orson  added.

While readers are clicking on the shortened articles, increased engagement can cause some negative feedback. “New and social media have given us the gift (or curse) of instant feedback. There are always a few weeds in the bunch of constructive comments,” Ridley said. “It’s up to the writer to determine which ones these are and to prune effectively.”

 Cynthia Bowman, a freelance writer for Joy Journist, offers a tip to remember when tackling negative feedback of readers interacting with listicles content creators.

“I think trolls prefer to hit highly visited articles. In the end, reader engagement is tied to quality over format. Touch upon the right topic with solid content and you will attract readers and commenters, regardless of what format you use”.

Photo courtesy of Anna Bialkowska on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Anna Bialkowska on Flickr

Having such a specific reach and an invested audience begs the question: Do media professionals find listicles to be creatively stifling? Bethany Berger, digital content advisor at, doesn’t feel this way.

“For some, it actually frees up part of your mind to focus on the creative thinking aspect of writing, instead of trying to figure out how to present the information.”

Ridley agrees.

“Writing a listicle is just as calculated as writing a full piece. Earning how to condense into strategic points is just as important as expanding,”she said.

Bryan Kratz, digital marketing coordinator for NaturaLawn of America, Inc believes writers should find ways to make their content fit with the listicle and pay attention to the visuals.

“We should be evolving our styles to adapt and bring creativity and journalist principles to the listicle as a marketing tool,” he said. “Visuals are crucial for today’s editorial climate. Photos are a must, where GIFs and videos should be used where appropriate.”

Taylor agrees that visuals strengthen a listicle and allows for more shareability. “It’s a compact way of condensing information in a manner that keeps the attention of the reader and translates well to tweets and Tumblr captions. I 100 percent agree that you must have visuals included with listicles. It makes for better sharing that way. People are naturally drawn to aesthetics and visuals are just as much a part of writing as words are.”

Photo courtesy of Pierre Metivier on Flikr

Photo courtesy of Pierre Metivier on Flikr

If listicles have taught us anything, it’s that Canadian songstress Nelly Furtado had one of the best-selling albums with the 2006 album Loose, and if Furtado has taught us anything, it’s that All Good Things (Come to an End)

“People like reading lists. They’re quick. Digestible. And, often, because of the limitations of the content, are written about a topic that evokes curiosity response. Clicking through is the only way to satisfy the itch, ” Orson said.


6 Reasons Listicles Are Awesome

  1. Listicles preset relevant information to an audience quickly.

  2. Listicles are good for reaching a niche audience.

  3. Listicles provide greater audience engagement.

  4. Listicles allow content creators to focus on creativity, not format

  5. Listicles are visually stimulating.

  6. Over-saturated…but satisfying itchiness more than other editorial formats.


Featured image by Mervyn Chua via Flickr.  

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About Niki Madison

Niki Madison writes daily updates and features for the Cision blog. She is a media researcher at Cision, specializing in print media with a focus on newspapers. She is a freelance graphic designer, enjoys dancing feverishly to live music, the fashion and pop culture of the 1980s and 1990s, and is a sucker for cat memes. Follow her on Twitter @nikimadison1.