Six Easily-Preventable Mistakes That Bloggers Make with List Posts

By Ali Luke

List posts are hugely popular in the blogosphere — and for a good reason. They attract readers, and they’re easy to write.

Sometimes, there’s a bit of a backlash against list posts. That’s not because they don’t work, but because they’re often poorly executed. Here are six mistakes that are easy to make — and easy to prevent.

Mistake #1: Putting the Wrong Number in the Title

Have you ever read a list post where the title promised 17 items, but the post only had 16? Okay, it was probably still a good post, but it feels sloppy at best.

When you’re crafting your list post, you may well find that you cut out one item — or add in an extra one. Make sure you change your title to match.

Watch out for any other references to the number of items, too (probably in the introduction). This isn’t such a glaringly obvious error, but you can bet that at least some of your readers will notice the mismatch.

Mistake #2: Leaving Off the Introduction

Some bloggers launch straight into their list with #1, without even a line or two of introduction. This can come across as abrupt and jarring (or just plain lazy) to your reader.

You can use your introduction to explain the “why” of your list in the introduction, or to tell the reader how to use the list. For instance, you might encourage them to try out one or two of the ideas, even if they don’t have time to do them all.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to Number the Items

Quite often, I come across list posts where there’s a number in the title (“7 ways…” “4 tips…” etc) but the actual list items aren’t numbered.

There’s no good reason not to number your list items. The numbers help readers to orient themselves within the post — they know how far through the list they are at any given stage. Plus, without numbers, your readers may try to count the items as they read — which means they won’t be concentrating on the post itself.

Mistake #4: Failing to Order the Items

One reason why list posts get a bad name is because they often jump around all over the place, giving the impression that the blogger threw them together without putting much thought into ordering.

Your readers may not consciously notice if you’ve ordered your list items, but they will get the sense that your post is carefully constructed. You could try:

  • Ordering from easiest to hardest
  • Ordering from start to end or first to last
  • Alphabetical order
  • Alternating between two types of item (e.g. “do”s and “don’t”s)

In this post, I ordered the mistakes so that they match the experience of reading a poorly-written list post — the first thing you notice is the title, then the introduction (or lack of one!) and so on.

Mistake #5: Having Items of Wildly Differing Lengths

If you’re reading a list post where each item consists of several thoughtful paragraphs, then you suddenly hit one which is just one line, it’s going to seem odd. (And the reverse applies too — single-sentence items followed by a huge one.)

Obviously, not all your ideas will be exactly the same length, but it’s goodl to shoot for a similar range. That might be two — three sentences or two — three paragraphs. The key thing is to be consistent. If you’re struggling, try merging together two short items, or splitting up one long one.

Mistake #6: Padding the List

We all know that “100 top tips” is going to sound more impressive than “10 top tips” — but that’s not an excuse for writing a padded list post. It’s better to have a genuinely useful list of 10 or 20 items than a massive list of 100 that doesn’t provide much value.

One great way to ensure a high-quality post is to over-plan your list: if you’re aiming to write a list of 20, aim for 24 or 25 ideas. That way, you can prune out the weaker ones.

What other mistakes do you see bloggers making with list posts? Add your thoughts in the comments…

Bio: Ali Luke is a writing coach and blogger, and writes a weekly column for DailyBlogTips. If you’re struggling to find time to write great blog posts, click here to get her free ebook “How to Find Time for Your Writing” (plus a bunch of extra goodies, including free chapters from her Bloggers’ Guides series).



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16 Responses to “Six Easily-Preventable Mistakes That Bloggers Make with List Posts”

  • Trevor Watkinson

    Thanks for the tips Ali! I actually found your post after completing and publishing my latest post, which just happened to be a list post!

    I was relieved to find that I didn’t make any of the mistakes you mentioned here.

    I used Microsoft Excel to order my list items in alphabetical order because I thought that made the most sense for someone who was reading my blog and searching for a particular item in a long post.

    The other great thing about list posts is they give you lots of ideas for future blog posts. I know I’ll be expanding on some of my list items!

  • Ali Luke

    Thanks everyone for all the comments! It looks like I’ve struck a chord … I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s a bit fed up of seeing the same mistakes everywhere.

    As a few people have pointed out, it is so easy to make some of these slips, especially when you’re busy (and I don’t think I’ve ever met a blogger who *wasn’t* busy)! And I like Kimberly’s tip of writing out the list post separately, not straight into WordPress.

    One nice thing you can do as a reader, if you spot a mistake, is to send an email or a DM (on Twitter) to the blogger and let them know privately so they can fix it. I know how much I appreciate it when readers do that for me!

  • Eddie Gear

    I know where your coming from Ali,I’ve made all these writing mistakes but I’ve learned from them and now I am improving my skills. It does take time for me, But I believe that it will help me in the long run. Thanks for the wonderful post. Its been a while since I read a real useful post.

  • Kimberly Gauthier, Adventures in Blogging

    Been there, done that.

    I’ve found that writing out my list first makes it easier. Most of my blogging is done directly in WordPress, but when it comes to list posts, I can’t trust myself to make sense. So I write it out in my blogging journal until I get it right, then transfer the post to my blog. Whew!

  • Rebecca Curtis

    I am a beginner at blogging, and I have already seen many of these mistakes out there! It seems like such an easy topic, but many people must not be taking the time to stand back and look at their own work to recognize these issues! Thanks for a great blog and the helpful tips! I will be sure to remember this when I go to create a list blog in the future! 🙂

  • Robert Boland

    This may seem like a really basic post, but I’m constantly surprised by the number of bloggers who make these simple mistakes. I mean how can you get the numbers mixed up! I’ve seen that a few times now!

  • Clayton Johnson

    I totally hate it when bloggers do these lists and make these mistakes. Its actually pretty common and I’m glad you called them out!

  • Liz

    Hey Ali,

    Your tips are so right on. In fact I always make the mistake of ordering the numbers incorrectly, arrggghh!

    But I also have to say, the large tips list that get padded with items with the intention of looking impressive, aren’t what I love, I’m with you, I’d rather have less items and more useful, unique tips.

    Fun post 🙂
    Liz

  • Dean Saliba

    These are the kind of mistakes that both new and experienced bloggers will make. I’ve been writing and blogging (professionally and amateur) since 2001 and I still occasionally make blunders like those listed. Thankfully I quickly spot them and edit the post. 🙂

  • Jamie Northrup

    I love list posts, but get very disappointment when I click through to what I think will be a list post, but there are no numbers, or at the very least headings for each item.

    Usually people looking for lists, are looking for brief info, don’t write too much on each point, it’s better to summarize and link to another post that can be more detailed.

  • Warren

    comment number 2: Er oops. I mean 6. Great article. I always reread my work and that’s what a couple of these amount too. Not number or numbering incorrectly. They are easy mistakes to make when your a busy person and need to get your article done before your kids need picking up from school or you have an important meeting. However prove reading an article can take next to no time and correct almost all mistakes. When I see these kind of things I know that the write has written the article and almost immediately posted it to the blog with no thought for checking how it was written.

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    I have to admit, I have flubbed this a few times myself. Then again, I am sued to writing prose and it has been a long time since I have written articles. I think I’ll have to keep getting better.

    Thanks for sharing this, I am glad I have a chance to change some things!

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Web Marketing Tips, I wrote about this a while ago. I think it’s a natural trend. People are still reading blogs, but we are just getting busier to taking the time to write a comment is rarer now.

  • Web Marketing Tips

    I noticed one thing in many blogs …. These days comments are very less … You can see the example of problogger or John or of Daniel.

    Any opinion ?

  • Web Marketing Tips

    Listing posts are always sounding great because you know you will get easy and to the point read.

    But if it is not draw in that fashion than it really turn me off.

  • Tushar@BloggersEthics

    #2 is so right and relevant. I have read posts where the title is
    7 POINTS TO MAKE YOUR BLOG AN EARNING ONE and the writer then directly starts with the list. Its obvious that I can make out from the title what is in there but surely, a bit of introduction is obviously required

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