THE TOP 10 PROBLEMS WITH TOP 10 LISTS

  • AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Writing

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    The appropriate “Top 10” list is the mark of an amateur writer.  There are plenty of practical problems with such a list in itself.  Yet, with the right approach, this overdone piece of content can be rejuvenated.

    While our result certainly won’t be a “Top 10” list any longer, it still abides as a list.  Nevertheless, we proceed on to our list of criticisms of the traditional “Top 10” list, in no particular order:

    1. “Top 10”

    The title “Top 10” is a red light for those of us who are looking for original and inspirational content.  It’s simply overdone.

    A fresh title is essential to grab the reader’s attention, as based on the 80/20 rule of headlines (Copyblogger), eight out of 10 will read the headline but only two out of 10 will read the content.  You can easily fix the problem, though.

    In this case, aim for putting the number before the text.  Also, get right to your descriptive phrase.  “10 Creative Uses for X” is better than “Top 10 Creative Uses for X,” which will also afford you more room in the title (which is limited for good SEO).

    2. The Number “10”

    It doesn’t always have to be “10.”  In fact, for this generation of online readers – who scan, rather than read – 10 is too much.  It sounds funny, but there is a lot of truth to it.

    Besides, other numbers deserve some love too.  Apart from the number “7” being a quicker read, it is much more fresh than “10” in a list.  Many believe that there is something to be said for using odd numbers more often, which is relevant as well.

    3. Practicality

    We’re not done with the number “10.”

    Since some are so antiquated to “Top 10” lists, there needs to be 10 items in every such list.  What if there are only seven or eight logical choices?  It doesn’t matter, our old friend demands, because the piece has to be a “Top 10” piece.

    This, obviously, has problems.  The writer would be forced to make tougher-than-needed calls on what to include.  He or she shouldn’t have to reach for unwarranted items.  Before long, the writer is forced to extend to second- and third-tier ideas to get the magic number.

    4. Time Consuming

    Writers don’t like doing these lists.  Especially the infamous “Top 10” lists.

    For starters, 10 is a lot.  When you factor in an adequate amount of research to present one item in a nice way, multiply it by 10.  Then spend at least 10-15 minutes ordering them correctly.

    A 500- or 750-word article/list is one thing, but a “Top 10” list is much more involved.

    5. Subjectivity

    Do you remember our “Creative Uses” list?  There is another advantage to our proposed title, where the word “Top” was nowhere to be found.

    With this word, readers put the piece under a magnifying glass.  Viewers might wonder why one entry isn’t higher than another.  Debates could surface surrounding entries that should have made the list.  It all starts because the “Top” implies that the entries are ranked.

    For some sites that are only concerned with online traffic, such as sports blogs, they may enjoy some heated discussion.  Others can have their expertise and credibility undermined.

    6. Stop-and-Go Traffic

    Does the ride feel a little bumpy?  Don’t blame me: This is par for the course with our beloved “Top 10” list.

    Transitions are tough to accomplish with so many items on the list.  Unless an entry has a natural relationship to the previous item, it’s likely not going to happen.

    7. Relationships

    Since any “Top” list dictates a natural progression of entries, the writer in a “Top 10” list will have to compare and contrast on the fly.  Further problems are created.

    Why?  It leads to stop-and-go traffic.  It also takes time, leading us into the next issue.

    8. Word Count

    Why is HootSuite a top 10 social media tool, or 2Do a top 10 task manager app?

    Well, some background and pricing information would be nice.  We should also include advantages/disadvantages, the best target audience, and maybe some other items – again, because they’re ranked, not because it’s a list.  Everything is compared in a top 10 list (e.g., price).

    That takes time.  As we’re already well past 500 words – an average count for an article – keeping things to a reasonable word count is tough.

    Things can also get lopsided if an entry has more information than another.

    It looks really bad.

    9. A Narrow Road

    A normal list can be whatever it wants.  You can have “7 Entertaining Uses for X,” “9 Strategies to Revolutionize Y,” and so forth.  There is some freedom.

    But with “Top 10 Z?”  The creative freedom is lost.  The list must have the “top” or “best” entries.  There is no unique angle involved.

     

    Concluding Thoughts

    Lists are not bad.  In fact, they are some of the best-performing types of content out there.  However, “Top 10” lists are a bit out of date and frowned upon.

    Consider: If you drop both the “Top” and the “10” from the equation, arguably all of the preceding reasons can be fixed or alleviated.  It’s that simple.

    Use lists – a lot, in fact.  You just might want to leave our old friend, the “Top 10” list, alone.