A common way to attract readers' attention, whether it is in magazines or websites, is to use lists. It could be a Top Ten list or a Ten Ways to .... article. It has been known to be a powerful attention-grabber. It works because it tantalises the reader, puts out a promise to the reader of what is to come and that it will be worth his effort to read on. So why do lists work? Well, here is a list of reasons.
1. Readers like things that make it easier for them to process the information.
By organising the information in a easily remembered or well-organised manner, readers know that they can quickly skim through the article for the gist, while also taking away the key points at the same time. Alternatively, you can also say that most readers are "lazy", who prefer to have information nicely organised for their easy comprehension. In the highly competitive publication and online realms, where "eyeballs" or readership are key, the effectiveness of lists in attracting the former make them popular writing formats.
2. The simple headline lets the reader know what is coming, and that there will be an end.
Readers appreciate the a succint "heads-up" about what they are going to read. They can also decide whether to read the article based on the easily understood headline. By numbering the information, the reader also gets a sense of how the information will be wrapped up. For example, a reader willing to read a "Top 500 ways to make a salad" list will probably know that this will take quite a while. It has been proven that simply adding a "Top" or a number to a title helps to attract readers.
3. A list supposedly breaks complicated information into simple parts.
A list is assuring to readers, as it implicitly promises the reader that the information already has been broken down by the author into easily digested parts. For example, "Ten Steps to Understanding Brain Surgery" or "Five Ways to Get a Date" somehow lets the readers feel that no matter how complex the subject may be, simply reading the list is a good start to understanding it.
4. A list can also turn something simple into something really complicated.
A list creates suspense for the reader. For example, an article entitled"Two Ways to Get Rich", of which the two steps are (i) Spend Less and (ii) Earn More, will probably get a few page views. On the other hand, headlining the article as "50 Ways to Get Rich" will definitely attract many readers to scour through your list to look for ways which they already know (to confirm their own prior knowledge) and they do not (to see what they might have missed out in the past).
5. Lists are visually appealing.
By simply numbering the information (instead of putting it in paragraphs), readers usually find it easier to absorb the information. They feel that the information has been nicely organised and sequenced for them. If the list can be portrayed in a visually engaging manner, that will be an additional bonus.
6. Ranking lists generate controversy and discussion.
Ranking lists are always subjective in nature. After all, we are not talking about scientific journals. The key is not really accuracy but attention-seeking. For example, if a Ten Most Beautiful Celebrities list were to put Celebrity A before Celebrity B, you can be sure that there will be some people who strongly disagreed with that. They can argue with others till kingdom come about how the list's ranking is wrong or how Celebrity C should be at what rank, etc. If they do, then the list has achieved its main objective of attracting more interest. If the list can get people interested in the article, there is a high chance that it will get them to share the list with others.
7. Lists makes readers curious.
The title says it all. A good list title arouses the readers' curiosity and lets them feel that it should be worthwhile to take a look. For example, lists about "Ten ways to turn water into gold" or "Top Five Ways to make money without getting out of bed", if they do exist, are probably ranked high in google search. (Although if they really do, they don't reflect very well about human nature.) For a list entitled "Top Ten Beauties in Hollywood", readers probably want to find out whom the author consider as the most beautiful in Hollywood, after which they can happily disagree with the choice.
8. Having a number makes a big difference.
Ask yourself. Which article would you probably read - "Ways to get good grades" or "Five Ways to get good grades"? Having a number in the title makes the reader think that, "Hey, it's just five ways. Probably worth taking a look."