top ten tips for top ten lists - someone writing a list in a notebook

Top ten tips for top ten lists

Posted by Matthew Stibbe Picture of Matthew Stibbe on 6 July 2006

In ancient Greece the Socratic dialogue reigned supreme. In the middle ages, we had the illuminated manuscript. Later, in the age of the printing press, we had the journalist's inverted pyramid.

Today, in the information age, thanks to Jakob Neilsen's usability guidance, the dominant form is the top ten list. It is a commonsense, workmanlike structure. It's a handyman rather than a poet. But who cares? It's easy to read and easy to write.

Top ten tips for top ten lists

  • Give context. First explain what the list is for.
  • Use short headlines. Then expand on them.
  • Something new. Try to find something new to say. But...
  • Build on the familiar. Reinforce the list with recognisable truths for extra credibility.
  • A little surprise in the middle, to keep up people's interest.
  • Always use a round number of items. Eight, ten or twelve works well.
  • A long-ish list. Numbered lists don't work for four or fewer items. A list consisting of one item is a bit silly.
  • Use humour. But be subtle.
  • Always leave them wanting more...

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