Why List Articles Are So Popular

By on April 7, 2012

The List of N Things: Paul Graham nails the psychology of the list article and why it plays so well on the web – it guides us through the topic, and doesn’t force us to think too hard.

Structurally, the list of n things is a degenerate case of essay. An essay can go anywhere the writer wants. In a list of n things the writer agrees to constrain himself to a collection of points of roughly equal importance, and he tells the reader explicitly what they are.

Some of the work of reading an article is understanding its structure […] As well as being explicit, the structure is guaranteed to be of the simplest possible type: a few main points with few to no subordinate ones, and no particular connection between them.

I’ve talked about this before: The Psychology of the Bullet Point.

Bullet points signify a complete, contained, discrete thought.  They encapsulate some nugget of information, separate from everything else.  A bullet point tells us, “this piece of information is absorbable solely from the text in it,” and the text is usually short.


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