List vs. Listless — 14 Ways to Focus Your Blog

listsLists are everywhere here in blogland.  They’re prevalent in magazines, too, especially in how-to and enthusiast publications, and more than a few grocery checkout tabloids. 

We should pay attention to the latter and take care what we emmulate in our blogs. Because we, as bloggers, have a higher standard to strive for.

But that’s not my soap box today. 

Today is about promising a long list of valuable points in a 700 word blog, when you really can’t.  And shouldn’t. 

And you’re right, my title today is totally bogus. 

The rookie blogger takes stock of this list-infested topical landscape and assumes this is the way it’s done.  Because even the Big Boys do it, and they are, after all, the Big Boys.

Big doesn’t mean better.  Never has, never will.

So pervasive are lists that they are among the other little blog-exclusive rules of order and expectations, such as avoiding paragraphs of more than two lines and the use of sub-heads and a preference for words your gradeschooler can understand.

I did a guest blog on one of those Big Boy sites recently, and was advised to dumb it down next time. 

Obvious Too Often Equals Dumb

Blog readers don’t really read, they scan.  So make your blog scannable, right?  And if you promise X number of salient points in your header, then their scanning has a target.

Yeah, that’s all good on paper.  But too often it falls apart on the digital page.  Because blog readers don’t want dumb, they want fast, and in truth they are a cut above the average periodical reader in terms of comprehension and appetite for information.

Somewhere on the executive floor…

… there is a suit who decided lists are a great way to deliver information. 

I can give you ten reasons this isn’t necessarily so. 

But to remain true to the point of this post, I won’t.  Because, pure and simple,  it’s not the best strategy for serving your readers.

I was thumbing through a major writing magazine recently when I saw an article titled, “10 Ways to Make Your Characters Come Alive.”  Aroused by this, I purchased the magazine, and when I got home I attacked the pages like the hungry-for-knowledge writer than I am.  And sure enough, there they were, all ten things on the list.

I threw the magazine against the wall.

Because none were fresh and original.   Not one.   All of the the promised points were obvious, completely entry-level stuff, like… give your character obstacles to their goal.

Genius. This is like telling a soccer player to kick the thing toward the goal.  We owe our readers better than that.  They can get dumb in the grocery checkout lane.

Let’s leave obvious and old news lists to the fitness magazines — the same lists appear in nearly every issue, if you haven’t noticed — and give our readers a higher standard of content.

We Need to Raise the Blogging Bar

If you’re offering a list in your blog, make sure it isn’t stocked with old news.  If one or two items on your list are original thoughts or new takes on established issues, then consider making your blog about that.  And just that.

Why?  Because a header promising “6 New Ways To Do Something” rarely delivers on the new part.   Which means your reader comes away disappointed, disallusioned, and unlikely to hit the Subscribe button.

And if you really do have 10 completely fresh and original points to offer, then consider writing an ebook.  Or post a 10-part series.  Both help you reach your blogging goals faster and more honorably than skimming over that which deserves more.

We only have 500 to 1000 words or so to align with the numero uno holy gospel of blogging — to deliver value to the reader.  Give me 500 words on something I can use instead of 1000 on ten things I already know, any day.

So maybe I do owe you 13 other ways to focus your blog.  That is, if you’re into lists instead of a take-away you can actually use.  If that’s you… look for the ebook soon.

Larry Brooks’ site,, is currently running a 7-part series on characterization.


Disclosure: In full disclosure, it is safe to assume that the site owner is benefiting financially or otherwise from everything you click on, read, or look at while on my website. This is not to say that is the case with all content, as all publications on the site are original and written to provide value and references to our audience.


  1. serga September 18, 2009
  2. Sarge September 20, 2009