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The Top 5 Reasons NOT to Write Top X Lists

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 5

"Top list" articles are everywhere these days, and I for one am tired of them.  Spend a few minutes on Digg and Reddit - which are themselves "top lists" of a sort - and you'll come across top-five lists linked to top-ten sites linked to sites showing the top fifty top twenty sites of the year.  Where's the real, detailed content?  I really don't think I need a bulleted list of "The Best Uses for Earwax", and if I did have a question regarding the recycling of earwax, I would certainly look for answers to someone who showed the ability to write more than a few short blurbs about it!

I'm calling for a moratorium on "Top List" articles - there are too many of the darned things out there already - and I present here the five best reasons not to write them:

#5: Limited Shelf Life

Expiration date
Top Lists are often popular and topical - for a little while.  After all, who cares which song was in the #39 spot last year?  Doesn't that article on the top sporty cars of 2012 look silly now that the market has been flooded with cheap, safe jetpacks?

Sure, with some work and some luck your article might score a bunch of hits while it's fresh and relevant, but what happens when the buzz fades away?  Does it languish alone and unwanted in some far, forgotten corner of the internet, depressed and neglected?

Why, yes.  Yes it does. 

Meanwhile, you're probably too busy flirting with younger, more attractive articles to even notice its sad predicament.  How do you live with yourself?

#4: It's Mostly Pointless

Ticked Checkbox
Nobody's going to read a "Top Three List".  You pretty much need at least five entries to have a chance at attracting any attention.  Who can consistently come up with five points about any one subject on which to base an article while avoiding redundancy and just sheer fluff?  Watch as I try:

Five Reasons to Try New FatCO Bottled Liquid Lard (tm)

  1. Easier to store than a big tub of Crisco.
  2. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.
  3. I get a commission if you buy it through my link.
  4. Umm...
  5. Errr...

See?  It's just not possible.

#3: Lack of Authority

Just who the heck are you, anyway, to proclaim that Mr. Snuffleupagus is a better Muppet than Animal?  When were you appointed the official rater of Muppetdom?  You're letting your personal bias creep in.

I don't care if you are a Nobel prize winning particle physicist - if you're going to claim muons are better than gluons, you'd better be able to back it up with more than some shoddy little list of your favorite subatomic particles!  What were your rating criteria, anyway?  I demand a detailed explanation of the scale you established for your evaluation!

#2: It's all been done

Top Ten lists on Google
Greatest Baby Names.  Best Internet Hoaxes.  Ten Celebrities Who Are Not Invited To My Pool Party.  Seven Mad Scientist Experiments You Can Do At Home.  All these are real lists somebody has already written.  In fact, a Google search on 'top ten" returns over a billion and a half results.  A cynic might take this as a hint that maybe, just, maybe, the "X best" format is just a tad over-used.

There's an internet meme called Rule 34 which states, roughly, "If you can conceive of it, there is porn of it."  If there's a rule 35, it probably states, "If you can conceive of it, there's probably a top ten list about it."  If what you're conceiving is pornographic, there's definitely a list of it somewhere.

Don't be a pornographer:  avoid top lists!

You thought #1 was going to say, 'See #4', didn't you?

Shallow water
No, the real #1 reason not to write "Top List" articles is this:  they're simply too shallow.  Where is the detail in "Five ways to to cure sleep apnea using power tools?"  Where's the depth in "Ten Best Cat Training Videos", and how much real information can be packed into "Top 100 Sausages of All Time"?  Which list items provide a balanced, critical view of all the issues that may be involved?

Top Lists, by their very nature, only touch lightly on the subject at hand.  Is understanding not important anymore?  Doesn't context matter?  Can't we do better than the written equivalent of a bunch of sound bytes?

Don't give in to the dark side!

There's a writer here on Infobarrel who will argue that Top Lists are an excellent writing strategy that will magically bring fame and traffic to those master such dark arts.  Be strong and don't succumb - off the top of my head I can think of ten reasons why you'll regret it if you do!



Jan 2, 2012 2:05pm
Hi Don
I love the satirical style in which you write! This made me chuckle.
Feb 16, 2012 10:54pm
But but they are fun and they can go viral! Definitely not the correct format for sharing important information though.
Feb 16, 2012 11:58pm
I addressed this issue myself in "Top Ten Things I Hate" with the Number 1 spot taken by "Top Ten Articles". Unless thee's some meat to 'em, I never read them. Good work, JD -- big ol' Thumb (which is one of my "Top Ten Favorite Digits on My Hands"!)
Feb 17, 2012 12:01am
Yeah, they are good for product comparisons and make sales but it can pay to be a bit more creative with your style of article. As always a healthy mix of article types is best!
Feb 24, 2012 11:23pm
I get your point, we're told they do well. Not sure myself yet. Cheers!
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