Editor’s Corner

January 31, 2014

These days, it seems as if the headlines that fly by on Twitter are a never-ending stream of numbers, such as: “54 Reasons You Should Go to a Dog Surfing Competition Before You Die.”

And, depending on how busy I am, I tend to click on these. (I usually hate myself later.)

The listicle — simply a list-based article — has become a staple for online journalism and an easy way to package content for the overburdened, mobile news consumer. While sites like and Cracked and BuzzFeed have popularized the listicle, they’ve been around for ages in print. I even recall a few articles from the early days of Tactics with headlines like “5 Ways to Improve Your News Releases.”

An often-cited New Yorker article from Dec. 2 noted that such list-based 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.

Old-school writers, editors, readers and other purists have grumbled about the listicle’s increasing popularity — yet another nail in the coffin of journalism. Still, listicles have their supporters. In an article titled “5 Reasons Listicles Are Here to Stay, and Why That’s OK” from Jan. 8, writer Rachel Edidin of Wired says: “Lists are not a substitute for long-form reporting; nor is long-form reporting a substitute for lists. They’re different formats, suited to different subjects and different ends.”

So, in the listicle spirit, I offer you, “5 Amazing Things That You Will Learn About Writing in This Issue of Tactics.”

  1. “Concrete leads — aka feature leads — hook your readers by painting pictures in their heads. Abstract leads just blah blah on about the canvas.” — Ann Wylie
  2. "Junk the jargon and realize there aren’t any prizes for using big words.” — Gerard Braud
  3. “If you try to say everything, then you won’t end up communicating anything.” — Rob Biesenbach
  4. “Approach your listener as if this is the first time they’ve heard what you have to say.”
    — Karen Friedman
  5. “The key to writing a compelling profile is incorporating the right mix of hard facts and soft ones.” — Andrea Disario

Meanwhile, I hope that you enjoy the rest of our annual writing issue.


John Elsasser

John Elsasser is the editor-in-chief of Strategies & Tactics. He joined PRSA in 1994.



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