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The Logic Behind Those Ubiquitous Listicles

December 4, 2013

With headlines like “5 Ways to Deal with Stress,” “6 Foods You Should Never Eat” and “10 Ways to Save Money,” numbered lists have become one of the most common ways to package editorial content on the Web.

As a post on The New Yorker's blog suggests, such headlines catch our eye by standing out in a stream of content, spatially organizing the information and promising a finite story and an easy reading experience.

Information presented in list form can be processed more efficiently than when “clustered and undifferentiated, like in standard paragraphs,” the post says. By putting articles into short, distinct components, lists appeal to our general tendency to categorize things — a type of organization that facilitates both immediate understanding and later recall.

With lists, the “mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption,” the New Yorker post says. Maybe so, but readers should remember that reporting broken into snack-size bites is “limited in content and nuance, and thus unlikely to contain the nutritional value of the more in-depth analysis of traditional articles that rely on paragraphs, not bullet points.” — Greg Beaubien


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