I expect you’re already familiar with the ‘list post’.
Even if you’ve never written one, you’ll have read plenty – such as Nicole Avery’s recent post on 5 Tips to Help You Consume Content More Productively. Some sites, including List 25, publish nothing but list posts.
But lists can be useful in any post. Even if they form only a small part of the post, they can still be a crucial tool in making your post more readable and conveying information more effectively.
Why Use Lists at All?
If you’ve written essays at school or university, you may have been taught to avoid using bulleted lists. But when you’re writing for a general audience, lists make it easier to take information in. They can also create a more informal and friendly feel.
For instance, compare these two paragraphs:
Some useful tools for new bloggers are Google Docs, which lets you work collaboratively on blog posts; Dropbox, which stores your files in ‘the cloud’ so you can access them from any computer; Audacity, which podcasters often use to edit audio files; and WordPress (of course), which is the most popular blogging platform in the world.
Some useful tools for new bloggers are:
- Google Docs, which lets you work collaboratively on blog posts
- Dropbox, which stores your files in ‘the cloud’ so you can access them from any computer
- Audacity, which podcasters often use to edit audio files
- WordPress (of course), which is the most popular blogging platform in the world
The text is practically identical in both versions. But the second version is much easier to read – especially if the reader is skimming, as they can easily pick out the four tools at the start of the four bullet points.
As you can see, lists also create extra blank space (known as ‘white space’) at the start and end of each line.
Here’s a great example of using a list in a blog post. In How to Create an Efficient Contact Page That Boosts Your Productivity, Paul Cunningham lists separate problems using bullet points:
This makes it easier to distinguish the different problems Paul was facing. And while some of the bullet points are quite long, they’re much easier to read than if they’d been squashed up into a single paragraph.
Unordered vs Ordered Lists
An unordered list uses bullet points rather than numbers, as Paul used in his post. It looks like this:
I’m calling it an ‘unordered list’ because that’s the term used in HTML code. To create this type of list in HTML you use <ul> for the opening tag, and </ul> for the closing tag. (In WordPress, and almost every other blogging system, you can create the list by simply clicking a button in the visual editor to.)
An ordered list uses numbers. It looks like this:
Again, ‘ordered list’ is the term used in HTML – <ol> for the opening tag, and </ul> for the closing tag. Of course, as with unordered lists, you can easily create them with the visual editor.
Whenever you’re including a list in one of your posts, think about which type makes most sense: ordered or unordered.
Paul’s blog post also has a list of suggested steps near the end, which he’s formatted by using an ordered list:
Using numbers makes sense here, as Paul is recommending the reader carry out the steps in this order. But if he offered several distinct ideas the reader could pick and choose from, bullet points would work best.
Formatting Your Lists Correctly and Consistently
While writing a list isn’t hard, some bloggers make mistakes with grammar and punctuation. Here are some simple rules of thumb to follow:
- Each item on your list should start with a capital letter.
- The introduction to your list (e.g. “The biggest problems I noticed at the time were:”) needs to fit with each item on the list. Try reading the introduction and each list item together as a complete sentence to make sure they all work grammatically.
- If your list items are longer than a single sentence, they should always end with a full stop (period).
- If your list items are single words or short phrases, they don’t need to end with a full stop. But make sure you’re consistent, and that all items in the list end in the same way.
Where Could You Use Lists in Your Posts?
Blog posts can often benefit from a list (or two). Here’s where you should consider using them:
- At the end of the introduction, to explain what your post will cover.
- In the middle of the post, to break up a long section.
- When giving suggestions or ideas.
- When linking to several different resources.
- At the end of a post, to help readers decide what to do next.
Of course, these won’t all be appropriate for every post. And you certainly don’t want too many lists in your post, or it could look a bit choppy.
Do you consciously use lists in your blog posts? If not, look at the last few posts you’ve written. Would any of them benefit from having a list?
Usually in recipe posts…but I’ve seen different browsers do weird things with automatic list commands, so try to format the lists manually.
I do make a conscious effort to use lists in my blog posts- there’s nothing more off-putting than big blocks of text. I hadn’t really thought about why I like to use lists, but you’ve hit the nail on the head with the extra white space and being better for skimming.
Lists are smart Darren, because using lists here and there creates order in your mind, which makes reading the post a more pleasant experience. I pepper in lists regularly to improve the presentation and flow of my posts. The more, the better, save overkill of course.
I also list writing list-themed posts too. Inspired way to drive traffic through the concept of making a promise through your title that appeals to readers, and then of course, you deliver through the content in your list style post.
It’s been about 3mths since I changed the format of my blog posts to include lists and it’s increased reader interaction on the website & social media accounts.
I enjoy including list in my blog course material whenever possible. However, I have never considered an ordered versus unordered list. When possible, I may mix things up a bit and create an unordered list.
I agree with this article.
Aside from those that you mentioned, using lists can give the reader a more “relaxed” impression instead of dumping a big lump of paragraph for them to read.
It’s a win-win. Easier for the writer to dissect his article and it would be easier for the reader to receive the article’s idea.
This is a great article. Ordered versus unordered was a new concept to me, but makes perfect sense, too. Thank you for again posting such basic and useful information! I plan on checking myself and putting this one to work as well!
I love using list posts. And I love reading them, Easy to scan and easier to understand. I’m glad I’m doing it right with starting with a capital letter and ending with a period.
I was not aware of the ordered vs unordered – love learning something new! Thank you Darren.
This is for me – I’m list-obsessed in all areas of my life, especially on the blog ha! Glad you cleared that up about commas Vs full stops too – thank you :)
I did a “like love” list this week and found I really like this concept. Great post, Darren!
Great post. I love creating lists for my readers, but also enjoy reading them from other sites as well. I typically use unordered lists and an ordered list using “a, b,c”, etc, when listing attributes of a particular product or item, when I don’t state a quantity. If I write “5 Things I Really Like About XYZ”, this is when I use the ordered list.
Lists are great for getting straight to the point. If I am reading a post and the title contains a quantity, i.e., “5 Best Chocolate Cookies in NYC”, I have trained my brain to jump to the list. If the content is written in paragraph form, I’m out. Too lazy.
Great post, keep up the good work!
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I love writing list posts, although I haven’t done that many. I do find that they are beneficial to the reader. I usually use the unordered list posts as they seem easier for me to create.
I personally love reading blog posts that have lists as it is easy to get the information that you need without a lot of hassle.
I’m going to be creating some more list posts in the near future. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us.
Have a great day :)
Advise taken. This where i fail mostly.
I am looking forward to go through the plethora of blogs that you have posted here.
Awesome blog. Thank your for sharing such a nice article.
tnx for the tips
Thanks for sharing with us all these informative tips in regards to blog posting
Been really helpful and I’ll try it out myself to see how it goes.
Keep up the great work always!
nice post ! it very useful for me please keep sharing .