Writing Better Posts

How to Use Lists to Your Advantage

Person making a checklist

Lists exist in your everyday to-dos and everywhere online. Some sites focus on serving up content solely through listicles, while others use lists within small sections of posts.

Lists are versatile, and that’s why they’re popular among bloggers and readers. Even as a small part of a post, lists make your content more impactful, accessible and actionable to a reader. Here’s how to make better lists and use those to your advantage as a blogger.

Elevating Your Understanding and Use of Lists

One of the first lists you came across in school was the bullet list. These lists make information feel more fun, friendly and informal to process without a specific order. Bullet lists effectively explain points, without using wordy sentences that take up three or more lines with no visual break.

Spreading these points out in bullets helps readers process these information bites in greater detail while taking up less space. Imagine you’re a travel blogger and writing about a spa package, and you need the readers to focus on the details. Which version works best?

Version One

The Spa Big Vacay-Getaway package includes three-night accommodation, two 60-minute spa treatments, breakfast for two in-room and a luxurious gift basket when you arrive.

Version Two

The Spa Big Vacay-Getaway package includes:

  • Three-night accommodation
  • Two 60-minute spa treatments
  • Breakfast for two in-room
  • A luxurious gift basket when you arrive

Skimmers Scroll on to Subscribe

Version two wins since no one minds scrolling for the right information. The internet is notorious for readers who are skimmers at heart — Miller’s Law holds that the magical number for memory retention is seven, minus a word or two. Lists keep readers on your website reading and remembering your content — at least long enough for them to find the information and subscribe for more.

Listicles have the power to convert a one-time reader into a loyal fan. Your content is the same, but how you present it matters. Lists utilize the extra white space to identify important information and give readers time to process the details.

Bullet lists also outline issues or challenges — perfect for detailing long strings of information, such as pros and cons you’d typically ramble on about in a lengthy sentence like this one, only much, much longer. That gets annoying for a reader. Make friends with lists, and elevate them with proper placement, information and actionable tips.

Optimizing Lists to Your Advantage

In HTML, bullet lists are typically known as unordered lists, while ordered lists use numbers to designate ranking with top ten lists, rules or steps. The type of list you choose differs whether you’re making a list of items to pack or top ten hits, but what matters is the format. You must format your lists consistently for the strongest and most effective impact:

Similar Line Lengths, Please

Similar line lengths don’t allow one particular item to overpower another, and uniform shapes please the eye. Your content is less busy and more strategic.

Use Parallel Construction

Parallel construction repeats a consistent pattern of phrases or words to show each point of the content possesses a similar level of importance. When using full sentences, decide what kind of construction you’re using and stick to it. For example, if using verbs end in -ing, make sure each list item follows that structure. If using fragments over sentences, stick with it throughout the list.

Tip: Capitalization isn’t always required at the start of a point, but it helps readers scan items more easily. The first word shouldn’t typically be the same, such as repeating “give” over and over. Eliminate unnecessary articles and repetitive words.

Numbered Lists Serve Sequence and Count

Outline procedures, rules and steps. Don’t make readers focus on following the order over taking in the content.

Clarify Concisely in Introductions

Introductions to lists should clarify what follows in the list and why, much how a thesis serves to clarify the points and evidence that follows.

If the introduction to a list declares the reader has three options, an unordered or ordered list could work, but if it’s three steps, a number listed is needed.

Consider Style Wisely

Vertical lists work well for three or more items while shorter lists work better within a single sentence unless you want to detail the items or give the reader time to process statistics.

Style points differently if using hierarchies, but graphs make processing information more interesting. In Microsoft Word, and other word processing programs, you can insert a shape and place the bullet list inside. For example, a triangle might represent a list of hierographical information, with important items at the top of the pyramid.

Don’t Use Lists Too Frequently

Too much of a good thing gets old fast. With the power of the list, comes great content responsibility. When you overuse lists, you dilute their effectiveness or lose that power altogether.

Lists can explain what your post will cover, break up content, give suggestions or discuss various pros and cons or resources. Lists help readers decide what their next steps are when making a decision.

Don’t dismiss the power of the list, even when you neglect some of your to-dos in daily life or purchase outside of your grocery list. Use lists to your advantage — empower your content, make it more scannable, accessible, actionable and effective.

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