We all love lists. We love them so much we read articles made of nothing but lists. A “listicle” is the most common form of Internet click bait. That’s because, try as we might to resist, enough of us will click on 7 Top Ways to Trim Your Toenails to ensure the list thing won’t go away.
Scientists say we can’t help ourselves. Bite-size bits of data are easy to scan and digest. Their linear quality appeals to our desire for visual order. And we actually retain what we read in list form longer than what we read in paragraph form, according to cutting-edge memory research.
While all lists appear to be popular, no matter how inane, all are not equally effective at conveying information. Here are 5 Rules for Making Effective Lists.
- DO use either bullets or numbers. When your list describes a set of actions with a required order, such as installation or assembly instructions, use numbers. When items on your list don’t have a ranking or sequence, use bullets or some other device such as “DOs and DON’Ts.”
- DON’T mix sentences and fragments. Either is correct, but consistency is key. Write all of the lines as either full sentences or sentence fragments. Pick one format and stick to it.
- DON’T mix verb tenses. Past, present and future occur simultaneously only in science fiction. Mix was with is and will be, and you risk confusing your readers.
- DO strive for parallel construction. This is a grammar nicety that makes a big difference in the readability of lists. The words or phrases that start each line should all be the same part of speech (e.g., noun, verb) as well as the same tense. For example, if the first word of the first line is a verb, and the verb ends in ‘ing,’ then every line should begin with a verb that ends in ‘ing.’
- DO or DON’T punctuate. Consistency rules again. If your lines are full sentences, either put periods at the end of all or none. Likewise, either capitalize the first word in every line or capitalize none.
Need help with writing or editing content for your website, blog, email newsletter or brochure? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].