The Listing Season

This is the season of lists. You’ll soon be seeing movie lists, events lists, end-of-year lists. Amazon already chose its best book of the year (Louise Erdrich’s “The Roundhouse”) and other book sites and newspapers and journals are sure to follow with their own opinions, in list form.

Do you pay attention to them? Or, more important, do they remember them?

Probably not.

People like lists because they can scan something quickly, think they’ve acquired a nugget of knowledge and then turn the page (whether physical or digital).

Do you go to movies because they’re on best-of lists? Do you read books because they’re recommended as best of the year? Do you even remember events that are included in memorable moments of any year-end summing up?

Probably not.

Yet lists will always be with us. Here’s why (in list form, of course):

1. It’s easy to create a sense of importance by rankings.

2. Lists play to our sense of order.

3. Lists are easy to compile, and don’t have to make much sense. If they’re on a list, no one questions what that means other than their “listiness.”

4. Lists give the impression the writer has thought long and hard about what to include or exclude.

5. People who are on a list can say “we’ve made the list” and feel a sense of accomplishment, however fallacious that might actually be (everything, of course, except lists of bestselling books which are, we know, never, ever manipulated).

I could go on making a list, but you get the point.

Be wary when you create your own lists that the points actually say something about the subject at hand. Too often, a list can be merely a placeholder until an actual idea comes along. But, if you do create a list – and really, despite my sarcasm, lists can be an effective attention-grabber and actually useful if you impart real information – think about what it contains. Use it to clarify the points you’ve made, use it to move your argument forward, use a list to recap.

But don’t just make a list to make a list. You want to engage your readers with your platform, not have them while away the time and forget what you’ve said.

Categories: General Interest, Writing

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.