A listicle is a short form of writing hugely popular on the web that uses a numbered list as its structure but contains enough copy to also be an article. I can’t tell you how many listicles I’ve written for clients over the years. Some have been substantial, but a lot of them I could have written with one hand.
Listicle is a portmanteau—a word made from combining two other words, in this case list + article = listicle. More common examples are smoke + fog = smog. Motor + hotel = motel. Friend + enemy = frenemy. Portmanteaus are cool. The word listicle also has a relationship to popsicle, which is sweet and not too nutritious. Or icicle, which is thin and pointed. Any of those adjectives could apply to a listicle.
Reading a listicle takes minimal effort compared to reading a traditional paragraph-based structure, allowing the reader to quickly scan the list to get the main points, and eschewing any sense of nuance or complexity. And what person wants to give maximal effort when minimal will do?
A listicle is easily identified by its title, which contains a number. Examples: “Five Ways to Protect Your Identity.” “Ten Best Waterfalls in New York.” “Seven Secrets to Becoming a Better Lover.” “Top 10 Novels of 2020.” “Nine Ways to Be More Innovative.” “Eight Republican Policies That Hurt Everyone Except the Elite.”
Listicles get a bad rap sometimes, for good reason. While many listicles offer targeted, relevant content for business, engineering, and technical audiences, many more listicles are stupid, frivolous, gossipy clickbait. “Seven Reasons You’re Like Monica From Friends.” “Five Pickup Lines Guaranteed to Get You a Date.”
Listicles are easy to write and easy to consume, but don’t provide much sustenance. Here’s an apt analogy—Listicle: Essay :: Fast Food: Fine Dining. Listicles match quite nicely, and sadly, to most people’s attention spans.
Most listicles have an introduction and often a conclusion. I object. Who reads a listicle and doesn’t go directly to number one on the list, skipping past introductory text? Did you see a lead-in on this listicle? No. Did you miss having one? I doubt it. The title alone is enough introduction. If the reader clicks, they’re already interested. I say forget the introductions and get straight to what miserly meat there is to chew on.