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Three reasons why I hate Top 10 lists

By October 16, 20088 Comments

Three reasons I hate Top 10 lists

Actually, I don’t discriminate.

I hate Top 25, 10, 7, 5 and [insert number here] lists. Blogs love lists, and it’s the best way to land on the front page of Digg.

And though I occasionally write ’em (I wrote 25 ways your business can help fight poverty just yesterday), I’m not a fan of the format.

Here’s why:

  1. Top X lists may be easy to read (and write), but they aren’t a great way to communicate detail or ideas. You wouldn’t want to learn a foreign language reading Top 10 lists, would you?
  2. Our brain isn’t wired for long lists. We struggle with seven numbers, so retaining a list more than four or five ideas requires real effort. We remember beginnings, endings and ideas extremely relevant to us individually.
  3. We retain stories, not details. Remember History class? You probably remember the stories, but you’ve forgotten the rote facts, dates and statistics.

In some ways, Top X lists are like a pumpkin full of Halloween candy:

It looks great, so you consume it.
When you’re done, you forget what you consumed.
It’s mostly empty calories.

Top X posts are good for supplemental reference material—a way to communicate loosely-related information thematically—but they don’t do a good job of transferring knowledge.

Will I continue to write Top X posts? Now and then. We’re all busy and these lists are easy to digest for quick reading.

I just hope you, Responsible Marketer, are okay with an occasional bag full of candy in your intellectual diet.

Are you cool with an occasional Top X lists, or should I lay off the info-carbs?

I’m all ears.

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Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Pia Hede says:

    I think it is an efficient way to collect new and very different ideas.
    But your right it needs an effort to read all the proposals.
    Thankyou for putting me on the list. It will be wunderful to see my idea realised.
    Now it is send out in new forums worldwide…

  • Patrick,

    Numbering and lettering things is actually a good way for people to remember things. (This was something that I took away from the book Brain Rules by John Medina.) Now like you pointed out there is a limited number of things that we can remember, so the list needs to be short. No more than 5 is a good idea. I find this ironic considering that lists of 10 are probably the most common.

    But, I would have to say that I’m not fond of lists for a different reason than what you’ve mentioned here. I am annoyed when I see “10 ways to do this” or “25 reasons why you should do that” but then while reading the lists I come to the realization that there really are about 2-5 really good items on the list and everything else is just fluff. You can tell that the idea for how many items would be on the list came well before the actually items were thought out.

  • Alanna says:

    I know when I am writing, I used numbered lists if I can’t make my ideas form a conherent narrative. That doesn’t bode well for quality of my thinking…

  • Deston says:

    They’re lazy, but a very useful device in humor and travel. 🙂

  • Greg Lins says:

    Hi Patrick,

    Ah, the irony! Your post lists 3 reasons why you hate lists!

    The top 3 reasons I like ordered lists include:

    1.) The content is orderly!
    2.) Many people like lists – and read them!
    3.) It forces the writer to provide concise points about their ideas, which is usually better than incoherent ramblings!

    The top 3 reasons I dislike ordered lists include:

    1.) Usually the items in the “Top x” list got there because somebody “made up” the ranking system, with or without subject matter expertise.
    2.) It’s a great format for people to use that want to crank out lots of copy without thinking too hard, rendering a large portion of the articles using the format lacking substance and value.
    3.) The devil is in the details, but sound bite journalism such as top X lists are pretty much devoid of any detail.

    For further details on the methodology used to determine my choices for this set of top 3 lists, I have no backup analysis or data, and you will simply need to rely on the fact that I’m an expert and know these things to be true.

    Now it’s time to finish my list before knocking off for the weekend!



  • Greg,

    You caught my attempt at humor with the title of the post! 🙂

    I was wondering how long it would be before someone called me out on it.

    Thanks, everyone, for your feedback on this topic.


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