August 3, 2015  (updated October 5, 2023): Social media has produced many new content forms, including the Selfie, the Hashtag, and the Listicle. This latter neologism, combining “list” and “article,” is the subject of this article.

What’s a listicle?  A short article of the form “10 ways to do X” or “5 things you need to know about Y.” Wikipedia (which supplies a large percentage of the information shared in Listicles), defines Listicle as “a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure.”

Listicles dominate native ad feeds, right rail and below-the-fold areas of popular sites like the Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and content streams on mobile devices. But people — both those who consume listlcles and those who create them, feel ambivalently about them. Some value their brevity, many bridle at their superficiality, and a few vociferous listicle-haters pine for a dedicated listicle-blocking Chrome extension.

Why are Listicles effective?

The human brain can only store a finite number of individual pieces of information in its conscious faculty at any one time. For most people, that’s about 5-7 items. The form of Listicles perfectly matches this limitation. 

Love them or hate them, Listicles are here to stay. And if you’re doing any kind of content marketing, you should be interested in them because, when done correctly, they can be very powerful.

The human brain can only store a finite number of individual pieces of information in its conscious faculty at any one time. For most people, that’s about 5-7 items. The form of Listicles perfectly matches this limitation. When consumed, Listicles make the mind feel “full,” even if the content is just predigested junk.

But Listicles don’t have to be dull, flavorless and full of “empty info-calories.” Good ones memorably sum up the zeitgeist and ping the funny bone. In fact, one of the best Listicles ever created was Paul Simon’s pop song: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, which pre-dated Social Media by more than 30 years.

Listicles are an adjunct — not a replacement — for long-form articles (e.g. thought leadership articles, e-books, and whitepapers) but they can be used to make a splash that can can create an entry point for your weightier tomes of knowledge.  If your idea is funny, engaging, or otherwise provocative, Listicles can travel very well on social networks.

How can I made effective Listicles?

Okay, if you’ve read this far, here’s your reward — naturally it’s a mini-Listicle: 5 Tips For Making Good Listicles.


1. Make sure the idea is fresh – not just another “X ways to do Y” treatment. Put as much thought into a Listicle as you’d put into a longer-form article. Sometimes it’s possible to extract a Listicle from a longer-form content item.

2. Explore the humorous potential of a Listicle; there are many. Funny is powerful on Social Media (except when it’s unfunny, which sadly is most of the time).

3. Understand that your Listicle will have to stand out in a crowded field of other Listicles. What can you put into your Listicle that others won’t? (Hint: your own data is a great place to start).

4. You may need to adapt your Listicle to perform well on other marketing channels (for example, email delivery may require a more individualized subject line heading than the simple “x ways to do y” form.

5. Learn from failed Listicles. Learn from your mistakes and plow what you’ve learned into your next one.

Can AI help me make good listicles?

Oh yes. Generative AI systems such as ChatGTP can crank out listicles at a rapid rate and their quality is on-par with listicles created by the average human. For example, I asked ChatGTP to write a short article on home fire safety, using the simple prompt: “please make a listicle article about home fire safety,” and it produced an optimally-sized (475 word) listicle bookended by an introduction and conclusion. With just a few minutes of minor editorial tweaking, this listicle could be credibly deployed on a website, perhaps augmented with an AI-produced image from Dall-E or MidJourney.


Didit Editorial
Listicles: Pro and Con
Article Name
Listicles: Pro and Con
Listicles stuff the human brain with exactly as much information as it can assimilate at any single point in time. A bad Listicle can feel like a bad, predigested meal. A good one can engage the mind and funnybone. The pros and cons of making Listicles, plus best practices for content marketers.
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