5 Questions to Ask When Editing a Listicle

If you edit articles or blog posts for business clients, at some point you’ll probably need to edit one of the most popular formats out there nowadays – the listicle.

As the name suggests, a listicle is a piece of writing that organizes its sections as a numbered list – just like this post, in fact! Given the listicle’s unusual format, though, there are some specific questions you’ll need to ask yourself when editing one:

  1. Is it an appropriate format for the subject?
  2. Are there too many or too few points?
  3. Does the way the points are ordered work?
  4. Is the list framed correctly?
  5. How easy is it to skim read?

Let’s dive into our own listicle to find out more.

1. Does the Format Suit the Subject Matter?

While the listicle format is certainly popular, it won’t be the right fit for every article.

Generally speaking, listicles are best suited to topics that can be broken down easily into individual steps or points. “How to” articles are an obvious choice, as they usually describe a step-by-step process. And if your client’s article addresses a certain number of tips, questions, or tools, it’s probably well suited to the listicle format.

However, a subject that follows a narrative might not work so well as a listicle. For example, a writer might struggle to break down an article called A Food Lover’s Day in Tokyo into distinct points.

If your client’s subject doesn’t fit the listicle format, and it’s within the remit of your brief to do so, you should suggest they consider a different format.

Alternatively, if your client specifies that the article must remain as a listicle, you might suggest that they reframe the topic or title. For the above example, A Food Lover’s Day in Tokyo could become Top 5 Things to Do in Tokyo for Food Lovers or 10 Tokyo Restaurants You Need to Visit.

2. Is the Number of Points Appropriate?

Many listicle writers make the mistake of first choosing a number of points and then forcing the structure to fit that number, regardless of whether they have enough content to work with.

This can result in a number of issues, including:

  • Unnecessary repetition of information to fill space.
  • Single subheadings covering multiple unrelated points.
  • Uninformative content that only serves as filler.
  • Lack of consistency in the length and detail of each point.

As an editor, you can fix these issues by suggesting your client adds or removes points as appropriate to reflect the actual content more accurately. Similar points may be combined, while long, unfocused sections may be split into multiple different points.

It may also be worth mentioning to your client that the more points they have, the less detail they should go into for each one, and vice versa.

3. Are the Points Ordered in a Way That Makes Sense?

Sometimes a listicle will have an obvious order of points. As mentioned above, “How to” style articles or posts explaining a process will follow consecutive steps, meaning the order of points should be self-explanatory.

However, even in listicles that don’t outline a process, the point order is still important. If your client’s article is called Top 10 Historical Periods to Write About, for example, it would make sense to order the points chronologically. 15 Finance Tracking Apps Ranked, on the other hand, should present each item in the order of “worst” to “best.”

Sometimes, one point may provide information that’s necessary to understand a point made elsewhere in the article. Take a look at this example from a hypothetical listicle titled 6 Ways to Plan a Novel:

  1. Alternatives to the Snowflake Method
  2. The Snowflake Method

The second point defines a concept that has already been referenced in the first point. If you spot this when editing a listicle, you might suggest your client swaps the position of these sections.

4. How Well Is the Listicle Framed?

While the list part of a listicle is certainly its most defining trait, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the content that frames it.

In addition to the list itself, you should make sure your client has written:

  • A short introduction that sets up what the reader can expect to learn from the article. This may include a summary of each point in the list.
  • A conclusion that wraps up the listicle without ending it abruptly on the final point. With most articles, this will also include a call to action.

The introduction is especially important here, as readers are more likely to click through to a listicle if they can see that the points it will make are relevant to their needs.

5. Can the Article Be Skim Read?

One of the main appeals of the listicle format is how easy it is to skim read. This is partly due to the way listicles break up complex subjects into manageable segments, but there are other ways to make sure your client’s work is skimmable.

To make a listicle easier to skim read, you might advise your client to:

  • Clarify subheadings so the readers know exactly what each point will address and where to find what they’re looking for if they’re in a hurry.
  • Format sections consistently using heading styles that stand out so it’s clear where one section ends and the next begins.
  • Use bullet points and images to break up long paragraphs of text.

You should also make sure your client has given the key information for each point in the subheading. This is so readers will learn something just by scanning each point without having to read the entire section. If they then want more detail about that point, they can choose to read further.

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