What's a Listicle?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Woman relaxing on chair with magazine, low section
Listicles are common in women's magazines. Freudenthal Verhagen / Getty Images

Listicle is an informal term for an article made up of a series of facts, tips, quotations, or examples organized around a particular theme.

Listicles, which may be numbered or bulleted, are particularly common in blogs and other online articles.

Listicle is a blend (or portmanteau) of the words list and article.

Examples and Observations on Listicles

  • "Something had happened to my brain during my long tenure at women's magazines. I wasn't sure if it was because my mind moved a million clicks faster than my mouth could keep up, or if I had edited one ​listicle, charticle, gridicle and relationship quiz too many. But I had developed a bizarre inability to speak before higher-ups without stuttering, which the creative director eulogized in a drawing of me with a stream of 'Er, ah, duh, durs' coming out of my mouth."
    (Jessie Knadler, Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid With the Cowboy I Love. Berkley Books, 2012)
  • "[H]is digressive narrative--which sometimes makes use of self-amused listicles--seems suspiciously influenced by styles that are popular on the digital platforms he inveighs against."
    (Review in The New Yorker [January 21, 2013] of The Missing Link by Philip Hensher)
  • "When Beyoncé's publicist emailed Buzzfeed earlier this week to ask that they kindly remove 'some unflattering photos' of her client that were included in a listicle of 'The 33 Fiercest Moments From Beyoncé's Halftime Show,' little did she know that the Internet doesn't quite work that way.

    "In fact, that's the exact opposite of the way in which the Internet works.

    "Now, thanks to an unforgiving Internet phenomenon known as the Streisand Effect, those photos are not only everywhere--they've become a full-fledged meme."
    (Neetzan Zimmerman, "Beyoncé’s Publicist Asks Internet to Remove Unflattering Beyoncé Photos; Internet Turns Unflattering Beyoncé Photos Into a Meme." Gawker, February 7, 2013)

    Writing for Readers With Short Attention Spans

    • "Editors at many newspapers and magazines welcome list articles because these features can be expanded or reduced as space allows. More important, list articles make great cover lines that motivate readers to buy magazines. 'When we put lists on the cover, our newsstand sales go up,' said Men's Health editor David Zinczenko in a televised interview about the power of lists. In his blog, Zinczenko offers lists that inform readers on timely topics: the six worst foods to eat at the movies, the eight ultimate flat-belly summer foods and the six things your dad wants for father's day. 'Lists are perfect for guys with short attention spans,' jokes Zinczenko.'...

      "List articles usually follow a two-part formula. First, you need an introductory paragraph that sets up the article by explaining the purpose of the list. Since these articles are straightforward, the introduction should be brief and to the point. Second the list is presented in either a bulleted or a numbered format. . . .

      "Although list articles seem simple to write, most of them require research."
      (David E. Sumner and Holly G. Miller, Feature and Magazine Writing: Action, Angle and Anecdotes, 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2009)

      The Appeal of the Listicle

      • "The list--or, more specifically, the listicle--extends a promise of the definitive while necessarily revealing that no such promise could ever be fulfilled. It arises out of a desire to impose order on a life, a culture, a society, a difficult matter, a vast and teeming panorama of cat adorability and nineties nostalgia. . . .

        "The rise of the listicle obviously connects with the Internet’s much-discussed effect on our ability (or desire) to sit still and concentrate on one thing for longer than ninety seconds. Contemporary media culture prioritizes the smart take, the sound bite, the takeaway--and the list is the takeaway in its most convenient form. But even when the list, or the listicle, has nothing really to do with useful information, it still exerts an occult force on our attention—or on my attention, at any rate. ('34 Things That Will Make ’90s Girls Feel Old.' '19 Facts Only a Greek in the U.K. Can Understand.' '21 Kinds of Offal, Ranked By How Gross They Look.') Like many of you, I am more inclined to click on links to articles that don’t reflect my interests if they happen to be in the form of countdowns. And I suspect my sheep-like behavior has something to do with the passive construction of that last sentence. The list is an oddly submissive reading experience. You are, initially, sucked in by the promise of a neatly quantified serving of information or diversion. . . . Once you’ve begun reading, a strange magnetism of the pointless asserts itself."
        (Marc O'Connell, "10 Paragraphs About Lists You Need in Your Life Right Now." The New Yorker, August 29, 2013)
      • "Despite the growing derision of listicles . . ., numbered lists--a venerable media format--have become one of the most ubiquitous ways to package content on the Web. Why do we find them so appealing?

        "The article-as-numbered-list has several features that make it inherently captivating: the headline catches our eye in a stream of content; it positions its subject within a preëxisting category and classification system, like 'talented animals'; it spatially organizes the information; and it promises a story that’s finite, whose length has been quantified upfront. Together, these create an easy reading experience, in which the mental heavy lifting of conceptualization, categorization, and analysis is completed well in advance of actual consumption--a bit like sipping green juice instead of munching on a bundle of kale. And there’s little that our brains crave more than effortlessly acquired data. . . .

        "But the list’s deepest appeal, and the source of its staying power, goes beyond the fact that it feels good. . . . Within the context of a Web page or Facebook stream, with their many choices, a list is the easy pick, in part because it promises a definite ending: we think we know what we’re in for, and the certainty is both alluring and reassuring. The more we know about something--including precisely how much time it will consume--the greater the chance we will commit to it."
        (Maria Konnikova, "A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists." The New Yorker, December 2, 2013)

        Garrison Keillor on the Darker Side of Listicles

        • Q: Jim, I'd like you to look at this magazine article entitled “The Twenty Best Hash Browns in Town” and tell me if you wrote it.

          A: Yes, I did.

          Q: How about this? “Fifteen Great Ideas for Putting New Life in Those Dingy Stair Treads." Was that the second "list" article you wrote for a magazine?

          A: No, that was my tenth. That was after "Eleven Restaurants You'll Remember the Rest of Your Life," "Ten All-Time Greatest Half & Halfs," "My Ten All-Time Favorite Racquetball Partners," "Ten Ways to Lose Four Pounds in Two Days," "Ten Celebrities Show Off Their Basements," “Eight Methods of Beating a Midlife Slump,” “Seven Terrific Marriages,” "Six Meaner Dogs Than You Ever Saw Before," and "Five Kids Who Make Your Kids Look Sick."

          Q: What happened, Jim. Why couldn't you quit then? You knew it was wrong. . . .

          A: I had a house, I was married, we had two children, pets, a summer place, a boat, a membership in a health club, and a good investment program. But more than that, I found it satisfying. I was a child of the forties, and through the fifties, sixties, seventies, and into the eighties my life seemed confused, purposeless, ill defined. Lists helped to center me a little, calm me down. I took out a clean sheet of paper, numbered it from one to fifteen or twenty--I got a feeling of accomplishment. . . .

          Q: Do you have any idea what damage you've done, Jim? You've made people more stupid. Some of your readers now find it hard to read paragraphs that aren't numbered.

          A: How many? A lot?

          Q: Jim, we're going to have to put you in a little room by yourself for a while, I think.

          A: Will I ever write again?

          Q: No.
          (Garrison Keillor, "The People vs. Jim." We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters. Viking Penguin, 1989)

          Also Known As: list article

          Format
          mla apa chicago
          Your Citation
          Nordquist, Richard. "What's a Listicle?" ThoughtCo, May. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-listicle-1691130. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, May 8). What's a Listicle? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-listicle-1691130 Nordquist, Richard. "What's a Listicle?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-listicle-1691130 (accessed December 16, 2017).