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3 Reasons to Stop Relying on How-To Lists for Information (and What to Do Instead)!

Posted By Guest Blogger 17th of April 2015 General 0 Comments

 This is a guest contribution from Daryl Rothman.


The truth is out there.

At least, we hope so.

How-to lists are all the rage in the burgeoning blogging world. And many are good, but there is an absolute deluge. The list of lists is growing.

Who has it right? How do you choose? What lists you should rely on?

Simple. None.

Before you loose the slings and arrows of recrimination upon me, hear me out. I didn’t say you shouldn’t read any how-to lists. There are some great ones. Read away! I am saying you need to stop relying upon them. Here’s why.

  • We are so inundated with lists it is easy to get overwhelmed. You are busy. You have important things to do—including writing, especially writing—and you don’t have unlimited time to be navigating your way through the vast sea of offerings. Have you ever been excited about an idea and set about researching related pieces, only to find there were so many that it was impossible to know where to begin or how to prioritize? Did you feel the motivation slowly ebbing away? The ability to strategically focus—in our writing and in our research—is critical, and if you get overwhelmed it is easy to succumb to exasperation and become paralyzed into inaction.
  • “Expert” advice may not in fact be just that. Again, a caveat: questioning one’s expertise is not to suggest they are unmeriting of admiration and respect. But you must be judicious, and proceed with a healthy dose of skepticism. What are this writer’s credentials? Has she presented certain things as fact which are, in fact, opinion? Are there other perspectives she’s neglected? “Expert” advice can be that shimmering mirage in the desert, but danger lurks just beneath: in our anxious quest to be enlightened, to find that quick fix, the holy grail of literary wisdom, we all too often sublimate and diminish our own power and expertise. Be wary of “gurus,” particularly self-appointed ones. Look past the accolades and glitz and learn to be persuaded by—well, persuasion.
  • Most lists are by their nature prescriptive and one-size fits all. And, inevitably, too good to be true. Diamonds are formed about 100 miles beneath the earth’s mantle, and even after they finally breach the surface only a little bit shows—we have to dig to get at the rest. So too with your best literary gems. Lists are inherently dismissive of the myriad and often subtle dynamics and variables unique to each writer. The gurus know we’re busy, and not only crave answers, but prefer them in bite-sized morsels which are easily digestible and immediately applicable. You are jolted with a surge of motivation, and it may even last for a few days, sometimes longer. But then what? Unless the list happened to be the best way lists can motivate you eternally, the magic ultimately begins to fade. And no wonder– little in life is that simple or easy—nothing meaningful or enduring, anyway. Your writing, I hope we agree, is meaningful. And we want it to endure.

So What Now?

Well, I would be negating every point I’ve just raised above if I tell you precisely what. But I do have some suggestions which have been helpful to me and which I believe —if you contemplate and tailor them within the context of your unique goals and experiences—will be useful for you too.

Determine why you may rely upon lists.

Are you short on time? Out of ideas? Struggling to get organized and get started? These are common challenges and it is normal to seek easy answers.

As I’ve said all along, there are good resources out there, including some terrific lists, but once you understand the reasons behind your reliance, you will be better able to address them in more enduring ways.

Seek information which focuses on you, which helps you find your own voice. This WTD article, while admittedly a list, does just that. It is a great example of deferring to your own wisdom, which is in the end, the best kind of advice.

Just the Facts…

Learn to find valuable, credible, reliable information which aligns with your needs and your goals. I am a writer and an early childhood advocate, and in the latter arena, the term “evidence-based practice” is bandied about quite a bit. Evidenced-based, not, “opinion-based.”

There is nothing wrong with reading and enjoying opinion pieces, but if you are reading something with an expectation of expertise and actionable information, you must be judicious. Take a moment to read the author bio and credentials, and evaluate critically that which is being presented.

Embrace your inner expert.

Learn how to build your own cadre of reliable information. Or, as I sometimes call it, “getting your nerd on”.

I do it (it’s really not a big leap for me), and it can be emboldening and fun. Rather than seeking that Holy Grail which contains all the answers for which you’ve thirsted, recognize that “truth” is not conferred upon us through the waving of that wand, and that a good deal of effort is required.

We are lifelong learners, and truth is never quite ours, but we move closest to it when we recognize it is a matter of the journey itself, which can sometimes be a bit of a grind. Writing, reading, networking, researching. But there is a fair bit of magic and community along the way. Keep notes as you go. Seek and consider a diversity of ideas and approaches. Commune with other literary spirits.

Consider the challenges for which you seek counsel and jot down how you would answer if someone else queried these things of you. I’ll bet you have some pretty good thoughts. A simple reminder that the best and most enduring ideas reside within you.

You are an expert in your own right. Embracing that, and sharing it with others, can be very rewarding.

So what do you think? Have I just committed anti-list sacrilege? Please comment and list a few thoughts. 

Daryl Rothman’s debut novel is being published by Booktrope in 2015. He has written for a variety of esteemed publications and his short story “Devil and the Blue Ghosts” won Honorable Mention for Glimmer Train’s prestigious New Writer’s Award Contest. Daryl is on Twitter, Linked In and Google + and he’d love you to drop in for a visit at his website. Daryl is not sure why he is speaking of himself in 3rd-person. And, like George, he likes his chicken spicy.

About Guest Blogger
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please see their details in the post above.
  1. I think we prefer lists because they simplify things for us. I think if you create lists for the right target, they can be useful.

  2. I like lists because they organize and present content in an easy to consume manner. I don’t want to dig through blocks and blocks of text to find what I’m looking for. A list provides an avenue for us all to quickly skim the material (which is what we do anyway) to pull the necessary nuggets. Using your example of the diamonds, I don’t want to dig through everything to find them. I want them neatly set up for me so I can get them and move on to the next list! Good stuff Daryl!

  3. Hello problogger,

    I run an android blog where I write all articles about “how to” and found that lot of people ask literally non-sense questions! This post would help me to get rid of such users

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hmmm, So the moral is that we should not depend on making lists. :). But they are very useful for me. Don’t know Daryl Rothman that why you are hating them :)

  5. It’s funny because just recently I’ve been getting really tired of the list format. But I have to agree with the previous commenter that lists provide the quick dose of information everyone seems to be looking for … I mean aren’t we repeatedly told how short the attention span is of the online reader?

    I was a life and small business coach for over a decade and here’s one thing I know for sure, most people jump from quick fix to quick fix for the simple reason they don’t want to have to think for themselves. The person who is prepared to be the driver in their own life doesn’t need anyone to tell them to do it, but a helpful tip on which direction to take things can, and very often does, help. At least that’s my humble opinion based on the emails I receive from my grateful readers. Thanks for daring to buck the trend!

  6. George I agree–just pushing back a bit against what sometimes become an over-reliance–and hopefully emboldening our own expertise as well. :) Thanks for commenting!

  7. Great article, you’ve made some interesting points, but I have to agree with george I think lists easier on the eyes when reading. Much like the bullet list in this article caught my immediate attention, i think although it may be less informal, it’s easier to read content

  8. Puranjay says: 04/17/2015 at 6:33 am

    Agreed on most points Daryl, though I still don’t think we’ve reached a point where there are too many lists (that’s still about 2 years away). For me, and for a lot of my readers, lists are just easy to consume. They are also easier to write since the structure itself is easier to follow.

    Great points about ’embracing your inner expert’ though. I do feel more writers should try to put their own expertise out there.

  9. how to articles help us to learn quickly. But we should do the things by our own to get more than available in blogs.

  10. Thanks for the feedback, all–and please remember what I have asserted here: NOT that lists are bad or that we should forsake them–but rather, if/when it gets to the point where we over-rely on them at the expense of cultivating and believing In our own wisdom, then we may want to take a step back.

    It is precisely BECAUSE people do as some of you have rightly pointed out increasingly seem to crave these quick-fix, bite-size shibboleths that I’m challenging conventional wisdom. Folks should read such list posts and even write them to their heart’s content–I am merely arguing that there’s sometimes value in having to dig, to grind a bit to perhaps achieve a more depthful and enduring reservoir of knowledge.

    I did a post for Men with Pens about why you should fire your Muse…basically that seeking divine literary intervention can be great but sometimes devolves into waiting endlessly for it rather than grinding away.

    And let’s remember one thing more: this post was obviously freighted with at least a small measure of tongue-in-cheekiness–it is, after all, a list of reasons to be wary of lists. :)

    Great comments, all–thanks so much, and keep doing what you do!

  11. In my corner of the world (time-based productivity aka “time management”) there is no shortage of listicles (list-based articles.) Many of them are written by rank novices who wake up with an idea and turn it into an article before breakfast without checking for alternate opinions, academic research or even their own experience via short, personal, real-life experiments.

    The result?

    Easy-to-read, one-size-fits-all articles that offer advice that sometimes conflicts with other listicles posted just weeks before – sometimes by the same author.

    I used to follow a site that, over time, skewed its content to lighter, bite-sized content… with predictable results. More short-term traffic. Now, it’s filled with trivia that anyone can write, and cringe-worthy depth.

    I think content creators who increasingly rely on lists need to decide who their audience is. My research shows that in my field or time-based productivity, fluffy, easy-to-digest content appeals to a younger, less-experienced demographic: stuff that is far more likely to be shared socially. This gives the appearance that the content is better received.

    But is it?

    Is a mindless article with the word “poop” in the headline that gets shared 1000 times better than one that gets shared 50 times? Which one makes the bigger difference? Which one leads to a bigger change in positive behavior? Which one is likely to be remembered in the right way? Which one builds the brand of the website and the author?

    Of course, it’s a choice the content owner must make. However, the analytic tools we use every day report _mostly_ one kind of signal – social sharing – which tells us more about a single kind of behavior used by a single slice of our audience, than the overall result we may truly want.

    OK – enough soap-box! Maybe I’m alone in this observation…

  12. you have good blog and the written article is also good….keep sharing good articles and posts :) thanks!

  13. One thing many people don’t know today is that they can use a free service such as feed burner by Google to build their e-mail list respectfully. While a how-to list for information is good to have, many list brokers sell the same list of names and e-mail addresses to companies for high prices. When you create “lots and lots of content” and do the transformation business blogging work by engaging people meaningfully, they will automatically leave their e-mail addressed in the e-mail newsletter subscription box, giving you the ability to have free advertising by sending them e-mail newsletters with affiliate links and anything else additionally gained under “permission-based e-mail marketing.”

  14. I really love How to tips, it feels reassuring, and staright to the point, but my take is , plan and informative write up is pretty better, but not better than How to tips.

    One reason so many people keeps bumping into my blog is because of the simple to follow how to list I make.

    Certainly list with simple to follow guidlines are better than explanations with much sensation and case study.

    Lastly , I believe so many people search for How to’s and that’s pretty much a reason why top sites like WikiHow and about still makes a success in how to tips.

    I soley believe that a right How to tips should be backed up with a simple and clear photo to disseminate the message more better.

    That’s my take .

  15. Ronewa Ramalira 14209994 says: 04/21/2015 at 10:37 pm

    this blog relates to reality and also not all “how to list” can lead you to your desired results.

  16. Thanks for the comments all! Again: I concur with the reasons some of you are articulating as to why so Many people like lists. I am suggesting it is sometimes worth pushing beyond the bite-size, quick-fix and easy answers conferred upon us by some “expert.” I am suggesting sometimes there are things more important than finding “answers” quickly, or accepting too readily that there are always ARE definitive answers to everything. I am suggesting there is value at times in the grind, in taking a little more time, that the journey and hard work itself has great worth.

    That’s my take; I thank you each and appreciate yours!

  17. This is a very useful post for all the bloggers. Keep posting valuable content like this. Thank you very much !

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