3 Steps to Writing Great List-Style Content (AKA Listicles)

3 Steps to Writing Great List-Style Content

You know those ubiquitous listicles you see online? The ones that have like 83459845 different pictures, each with a crappy caption, and you have to click to see the next item in the series and it takes a million years for the page to load because of the ads.

Every. Single. Time?

Yeah, don’t write posts like that, people. When you sit down at your keyboard to write a listicle – or even when you just list items in a longer article, ebook, term paper or whatever – you should do so with the knowledge that it doesn’t totally suck the big one.

Erm, ahem. I mean with the knowledge that someone out there, a humble seeker of wisdom just like yourself, will be enlightened by what they find.

Much more eloquent. Let’s pretend I said that from the start.

The Correct Approach to List-Style Content

Anyway, just how does one write fabulous list-style content? Content that engages and inspires without causing readers to grind their teeth in horror at what they see? Content that makes your audience want to know you better, learn more, take the relationship further?

In other words … content that builds your business?

Well, let’s take a look at just that. But first, you may want to head to the Free Resource Library and grab the guide on outlining so you can make notes in the margins that specifically relate to listicles. Then, whenever you sit down to write this type of post, you’ll have all your easy-to-use tips on hand. If you want to, it’s right here:

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And now for the real show!

Simple Tricks to Make Your Listicles Shine

Okay, hope you’ve got that download queued and your pen ready, cuz we’re diving into listicles faster than a lab dives into a lake after a manky tennis ball!

That is to say: fast.


  1. Always Use the Same Heading Types

This is a big one. Honestly perhaps the biggest. There’s nothing more annoying than a listicle that is all over the place thematically. Let’s say you’re writing about dog grooming, right? And someone gives you these list items:

  • Grooming Matters
  • Choose a Good Brush!
  • Your Dog’s Hair Type
  • Finding a Specialist
  • Dogs and Ticks

Okay … so yeah. Nominally these are all related. Grooming heads the list, which makes sense. Brushes, sure. Hair type, sure. Specialized help, sure. Ticks? Mmmmno, for several reasons. The human brain craves order and predictability, and this does not get the job done.

So just what’s wrong with this list? Well, for one thing, the parts of speech are all over the place. When you write a list post, your audience should be able to scan the list and find roughly the same content on each item. Naturally, each item will be different from the others, but they should be of the same type. Perhaps a “step” in a how-to, in which case you would start each sentence with a verb: Brush/Trim/Clip/Strip. Perhaps you use nouns, such as: Grooming Benefits/Hair Type/Brush Selections/Specialized Help. As for “Dogs and Ticks,” there’s just no telling what that relates to, because there is absolutely no context for this list item. But more on that in a minute.

The bottom line? Order, my good man (or woman or intergendered person), order! That means using the same parts of speech (verbs, adjectives, nouns). In the case of nouns, use the same tense. In the list above, we have “Choose a Good Brush!” and “Finding a Specialist,” and one is in the past tense for no good reason. Whatever tense you choose for your listicles, keep it consistent.

  1. Make Sure Every Item on the List Is Relevant

This is where we return to dogs and ticks. Why … is that even there? I mean, okay, ticks are in fur, I guess. Not really, because they actually burrow into skin, but we’ll call that one a wash. More to the point, though, ticks have nothing to do with routine grooming. They’re much more closely related to topics such as parasite control, vet visits or medical care. No good reason exists for including this here.

Yet people include nonsensical items in listicles all the time, either to pad out the content or because they haven’t actually thought it through that carefully. But see, someone Googling the phrase “dog grooming” isn’t coming to the post because they want to learn about ticks. If they had wanted that, they never would have landed on this post in the first place.

So come on, don’t do this to people. Honestly, don’t do it to yourself. Your own audience won’t appreciate this kind of off-topic swerve, and if you’re writing for clients, they’re likely to send it back for revision. No Bueno. Abort now.

  1. Use an Introduction and Conclusion

Too many people throw listicles together, then just assume that the reader will “get it.”

Well, yeah! they think. It’s like 100 different types of cats! Duh!

But … why? Why are you ticking off cat breeds on your fingers? What am I getting out of this? Why do I trust your list over, say, Purina’s list? Give us a little context in the introduction and help us see what we’ll get out of your list if we stick with it. Otherwise you’ll lose readers before you can get far enough into the post or article to convince them to try your product/sign up for your newsletter/check out your course/whatever it is you’re really doing here.

And finally, a conclusion. No one likes to be … ahem … left without snuggles. So wrap things up with a bow before you go. Readers will appreciate it, knowwhatimean?

Get That Listicle in Shape Right Out the Gate

One of the best ways to make sure your listicles are in great shape before you hit publish is to use an outlining system. That way, you make sure to get your headings straight from the get-go, you have all your content in place, and you know the final product is a great one.

Because if I have to look at one more eternal sliiiiiiiideshow riddled with ads for Viagra, I’m probably going to kill someone.

Don’t let it be you, folks. Save yourself the pain and just grab the dang guide, okay? Okay.

And lastly, tell us: Have you ever been guilty of contributing to the Ongoing Online Horror Show that is the listicle sphere? I know I have. What tricks do YOU use to make sure you’re not a part of that madness any longer?

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