I was frankly flabbergasted.
Is just the sort of opener that many of the more successful blog posts begin with. They need to draw you in, using underlining if necessary. The really pro blog posts continue the crescendo for the entire first paragraph. Sentences get shorter. Fragments even.
And then in comes the kicker, on a line of its own — with italics.
The next paragraph or two is completely forgettable. Sometimes they just ask and answer their own questions. Why? Because by now the reader has scrolled further down the page and sees a list down there. Yippee, a list!
Let’s face it. The moment we see a list, we stop reading these big blocks of prose. Prose takes lots of words to make a point and requires real comprehension and possibly even furrowing of our brows. In this day in age, we no longer have time to consume prose and most brows don’t enjoy furrowing. Don’t even get me started on complex sentences, what with their seemingly run-on ideas held together with an ever more tenuous set of prepositions, articles, and unnecessary punctuation: like the colon.
I mean, there’s a list down there! This particular paragraph could just as soon be a recipe for my mom’s meatloaf at this point, so few people are reading it. Onion soup mix was key, if memory serves. And ketchup.
So yes, the really successful blog posts need a list like a simile needs a like. Most blog post lists have the following three to five characteristics:
- Contain 3–5 items. One is not a list (though it is the loneliest number). Two only works if it is also the name of the post, as in: “The two top digits for counting in binary.” More than five items makes it a Listicle. As in “25 Things My Mom Never Puts in her Meatloaf.” (Yes, listicle is a real thing).
- Has an item that is obvious. “Remember to Breathe.” “Be Yourself”. These are usually early in the list and are simply there to butter up the reader. (“Hey — I always remember to breathe! Actually, damn, I’m breathing right now!”)
- Has an item that is flagrantly contrarian. “Everything you know about wearing underpants is wrong.” This is usually in the second half of the items, when you are just...about...to stop…reading..... Wait, what about underpants? I call this the “halfway clickbait.” And here’s the thing. We can’t help ourselves. We want to know why they are saying this. And weirdly, we give them the benefit of the doubt as we read. We kind of assume it is somehow true and read on. We sort of start to feel like maybe our underpants are actually. Not feeling. Entirely. Right…
- Monosyllabic Item. “Love.” “Dream.” “Be.” Meant to stop you up short after you’ve been going down the rabbit hole of the whole underpants thing. Speaking of rabbit holes, “monosyllabic” has five syllables.
- An item we pretend to understand. But actually don’t. Typically this has to do with insider industry commentary from the world the blogger resides in. “Python is becoming the Uber of Google.” That sort of thing. The less we understand it, the more likely we are to share it on Twitter.
Ok, we can all relax again, because the next paragraph or two is also going to be completely ignored. You see, by now you may have noticed there is a quote coming up. And if there is anything we love more than a list.... HEY! Come back here!
Ahem. As I was saying. If there is anything we love more than a list, it is a quote. Typically the quote is brief and powerful. It may or may not have anything to do with the topic of the post. It may or may not make any sense. It is nearly always attributable to Steve Jobs. Even if you don’t have any idea what the quote means, the moment it has Steve Jobs’ or Ghandi’s or Warren Buffett’s name after it, you have an insatiable urge to understand it deeply. And share it on Twitter.
“Design is a turtle”
— Steve Jobs
Think about it.