Amongst the many new rules marketing writers have been forced to digest over the past few years — Write for us for free for exposure! Stuff your good writing full of SEO terms even if the article becomes bloated and less clear! Create new, ambiguous job titles and tell seasoned pros that they don’t have the experience for them! — is the seemingly ubiquitous requirement that one write an article in numbered list form.
Here are thee ways that you can write a great blog post without using a listicle.
1. Tell an authentic story
One time*, an editor told me that I should break down my compelling narrative into chunks and number them, because my readers wouldn’t be interested nor have the attention to read a 500 word narrative. Nor have the capability to understand the conclusion unless is was smashed in their face in a clear, didactic conclusion that appeared directly after the numbered list.
I countered by bringing up This American Life and Story Corps and all sorts of magazines where the stories unfolded with a natural rhythm and didn’t need the <ol><li><li><li></ol> HTML tags to help the audience make sense of things.
The editor counter-countered** with the argument that a listicle headline gets more clicks and the listicle format is shorter and creates the possibility for more ads to be presented. And that she was paying me so I should write what she told me to.
Conclusion: If you are getting paid, write what your editor tells you to. But don’t stop trying to tell authentic stories that aren’t hacked to death with the listicle format.
2. Trust your reader and your writing to be able to break up the chunks without numbered lists
Why must we explicitly break up natural chunks of information with an ordered list? Why can’t we use the power of language to create natural transitions between our point? And point backward to what we said earlier and forward to what we’ll talk about next, using words, to create a powerful flow for an essay?
Conclusion: Your 7th grade English teacher taught you the five paragraph essay structure for a reason. Feel free to break the rules, but understand why you were taught them.
3. Use pictures
If you really must break up your points, why not do it with some pithy illustrations? They are way more interesting than numbered lists.
As a marketing writer, you have to be aware of the fads and styles that people expect. And if you are being paid, you also have to listen to the desires of the person signing your check. (Though I think you should bite the hand that feeds you sometimes. Or maybe a gentle nibble if that is closer to your style.)
But every once in a while, trust the power of your writing enough so that you can banish the numbered list convention.
* I made this up. Sort of.
** This is a synthesis of what a number of editors have told me.