This article was authored by Senior Associate and Content Manager, Ryan Myers, and originally appeared on BuzzFeed.
1. Use numbers
Numbers are a great way to identify how many items are in lists. Some people use letters, but letters also make up words so this can be confusing (and while letters can also make up numbers as in VII, or "eight," it's best to express numbers without them, like "2"). Letters might make sense if your list is in alphabetical order. Bullets, but are just lazy. What if your audience loses count and gets stuck reading the same point over and over again?
2. Start with one
I know it can be tempting to skip the number 1 and start your list at 2 or even 3 instead, but trust me starting at one will make your list a lot easier for people to understand.
3. Don't stop at one
Don’t get me wrong, your first point is very important. But it’s not so important that you don’t need more points afterwards. If you only have one point, people will think you ran out of ideas. Also, technically, that’s not a list.
4. Use Whole Rational Integers
Not all ideas are created equal, but all listicle points are. Don’t have a 2 ½ point, or 4.78 point, or square root of 3 point, or π point. Especially don’t write out a point with a repeating decimal – this takes up a LOT of space. A half-baked idea doesn’t merely count for half. Listicles aren’t about mathematic precision, they are about listing ideas.
5. Go in order
Sometimes you want to skip from 2 to 6. Or sometimes you like the number 3 and want to keep making 3rd points. Other times you finish point 5 and want to count backwards to 4 again. Don’t. Keep going forward. Going in order might feel boring, but don’t worry, listicles are supposed to be boring. You can count down instead of up if you want, just go in order. But if you’re counting down also remember...
6. Going negative doesn't work
If you’re counting down make sure you stop at 1. A 0th point is hard to understand, and going into negative points raises questions. If you have 7 positive points and 2 negative points, do you have 9 points total or 5? If a point is negative, does that mean the entire point is inherently negated? If point negative one is “Do not eat the yellow snow” does the negation make it “Eat the yellow snow?” These questions lead to an abyss approaching insanity. Don’t force this chasm upon your readers. Man was not meant to play in this domain.
7. Have a central theme to your list
The best listicles include lists of things that are somehow related. Find the common thread like “8 Things I Thought of While Writing a Listicle."
8. Have the same number of items as you list in your title
If you promise “7 ways to cure your dog’s bald spot” you need to list 7 ways. If you list fewer, your audience will feel cheated or lied to. If you list more, they might feel pleased to have extra items, but still concerned by the mismatch. A good way of making sure your number is right is to go back is to count. You can then add points, removing points or change your title keep things on track.
9. Write something for each point
I know it can be exhausting to have an idea for every single number on your list, but trust me your readers will thank you for it. Next time you consider leaving point 4 blank and write something simple like “This is the fourth point.” Also aim to write different things for each point (different words if not different ideas).
10. Have a final point
Lists that go on forever, continuing unceasingly toward infinity, are really difficult to write. Additionally most publishers have a word limit. Make sure you sure list ends.