4 reasons why we like lists

write lists, write lists, that’s what every blogger is told.

what is it that we find so fascinating about lists? i tried to find some research on that but can’t come up with anything so far. hm. let’s ask some academics who might know: john suler, famous for his psychology of cyberspace studies; chris from mixing memory, a cognitive psychology blog; and web strategist jeremiah.

in the meantime, here is … uh … a list of what i think attracts people to these bulleted and numbered items:

  1. lists impose a feeling of order on the jumble of demands, feelings, thoughts, information and other input that we’re faced with every day.
  2. lists are easy on the eyes; we can quickly skim them.
  3. lists are less threatening than long paragraphs. they’re less likely to contain complicated ideas and turns of phrases.
  4. numbered lists, especially when they’re a response to a problem, can give us a feeling of relief. only 5 things i need to do to get my energy back? sign me up!

what do you think? do you like lists? no? why or why not?

oh, and the reason why i’m writing about lists today is because i just took part in a little list writing project. well, maybe not so little. there were 67 of us, each offering a “list” post. i’ll, errr, list them all in a minute. by december 3, i’m supposed to tell which ones i like best.

why don’t you look them over and tell me which one i should vote for?

a tester’s dream – 5 steps to revive a rejected bug! by debasis pradhan

escape the rut by catherine kunst

form a running habit with seven easy steps by shane magee

how to prepare for christmas by ajay

list of classes by priscilla palmer

list of why blogs are a female gender by domtan

lovecraft & cthulhu christmas list by cullen bunn

my five wish-list classes i would enroll in by al

six savvy reasons why you should travel light by sheila beal

six simple steps to remembering and living the abundant life you are meant to live by anita pathik law

ten things i didn’t know until last week by blaiq

the quitter’s checklist by em dy

the top ten internet business ideas by john

thirteen reasons why wordpress is superior to blogger by jhs

to do to make tomorrow better by bob

twelve days of classic country christmas by scott

my top-10 personal development blogs by marco

100list – 100 things i can do to make more money. by dj wright

3 things i wish i knew then what i know now by stephen hopson

3 ways to bring back the joy to the holidays by karen lynch

what you think is what you see: 4 ways to stop negativity by holli jo

5 crash course tips in viral marketing by john murch

5 reasons (not) to drink coffee by lodewijkvdb

5 reasons why i bought a domain by wishbone

5 surefire ways to increase comments on your blog by vijay

5 things that i believe to be lies by krizza

5 ways to become the perfect idiot by lori

5 ways to crack or reset a forgotten windows xp administrator password by aseem kishore

5 ways to win a blog contest by erz

6 steps to take writing ideas from wordpress themes by karen zara

7 powerful tips to overcome failure by donald latumahina

7 seven tips for students to success by xoel cardigan

7 tricks you need to fight procrastination by samir bharadwaj

get out of debt quick: 7 tips by tejvan

top 7 paid review writing mistakes you can avoid by prince john

8 habits of highly successful salespeople by daniel sitter

9 ways to achieve success in life by adebola oni

10 life lessons learned while camping by ad tracker

10 productive ways for moms to “relax” by neena

10 things to consider before acting as your own contractor by shawn van dyke

10 tips on how to watch a horror movie when you are a scaredy cat by migraine chick

10 ways to improve your personality by z hereford

10 ways to survive the writers’ strike by cynthia boris

10 ways to work through your workout by gal josefsberg

your top 10 inspirational quotes by sparky

12 wordpress editors you can choose by karthik

13 encouraging questions by isabella mori

15 tips to prevent repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome by css

17 power tips for stumbleupon beginners by dr. mani

18 tips to become a productive blogger by monika mundell

5 blogging ups, 5 blogging downs, and 10 blogging tips by albert foong

21 punching tips on social media marketing and social media optimization by etienne teo

top 23 motivation tips, tricks and tactics from the blogosphere by mike ambrose

26 ways to change the world by chris

35 guaranteed ways to increase your rss subscribers by fred

no cost business tools: 37 free applications that make your life easier, free of charge by levi

40 ways to make your mind your playground by fier

50 ways to start a conversation by dee

100 motivators for informal learning by marcel ackermann

100 resources to improve your career, relationships and money by lawrence cheok

100 sites i seek inspiration from by iain hamp

100 things to do before i die by joseph gibbs

100 ways to personally conquer chaos at work by judy martin

100 ways to promote a startup by jason drohn

best 101 lists by pearl

150 funniest resume mistakes, bloopers and blunders ever by jacob share

100 things to write a list of 100 about by kotsengkuba

76 thoughts on “4 reasons why we like lists

  1. Matt

    We are surrounded by lists from an early age onward until we die, so we tend to find them a comfortable ambient presence in our lives.

    Some lists appear quite explicitly (much like your list of lists above). Other lists, much less explicitly visible, often influence heavily without us even realizing it. For example, telephone numbers, simple lists of digits which on their own hold no importance, but listed together can form the most important list in our lives.

    I believe we love ordered lists because they lead us to a “promised land” of good things gotten or bad things avoided, and have been programmed this way since we were children.

    Our parents started us early with simple lists,
    ‘Behave your self, sit up straight, pay attention, be quiet and we’ll get ice cream.”

    All through our lives lists have guided us to keep us out of jail (basic laws), start up our gizmos (first push primer bulb then pull chord).

    List follow the natural progression of time , priority and importance. One could say our entire lives consist of a high-level list leading from Step 1 to death, with key milestones along the way.

    Perhaps that’s why when we break away from the “normal” list pattern, it’s often stated as “getting out of our comfort zone”.

    We also seem to like lists which, within a short-term time frame, seem reasonably achievable to get through. Add the berries, juice and ice to blender, push button, run for 60 seconds, enjoy. Not: Get in car, go to store, get cart, get berries, get juice.. yada yada, even thought the end result is the same enjoyment!

    Anyway, that’s a list of some of my thoughts on lists.

  2. Matt

    We are surrounded by lists from an early age onward until we die, so we tend to find them a comfortable ambient presence in our lives.

    Some lists appear quite explicitly (much like your list of lists above). Other lists, much less explicitly visible, often influence heavily without us even realizing it. For example, telephone numbers, simple lists of digits which on their own hold no importance, but listed together can form the most important list in our lives.

    I believe we love ordered lists because they lead us to a “promised land” of good things gotten or bad things avoided, and have been programmed this way since we were children.

    Our parents started us early with simple lists,
    ‘Behave your self, sit up straight, pay attention, be quiet and we’ll get ice cream.”

    All through our lives lists have guided us to keep us out of jail (basic laws), start up our gizmos (first push primer bulb then pull chord).

    List follow the natural progression of time , priority and importance. One could say our entire lives consist of a high-level list leading from Step 1 to death, with key milestones along the way.

    Perhaps that’s why when we break away from the “normal” list pattern, it’s often stated as “getting out of our comfort zone”.

    We also seem to like lists which, within a short-term time frame, seem reasonably achievable to get through. Add the berries, juice and ice to blender, push button, run for 60 seconds, enjoy. Not: Get in car, go to store, get cart, get berries, get juice.. yada yada, even thought the end result is the same enjoyment!

    Anyway, that’s a list of some of my thoughts on lists.

  3. Neena (NeenMachine)

    Isabella,
    I like lists because they are usually a quick read of useful information – just enough to jog the memory. I, too, took part in this group writing project. Good luck to you, and thanks for the link!

  4. Neena (NeenMachine)

    Isabella,
    I like lists because they are usually a quick read of useful information – just enough to jog the memory. I, too, took part in this group writing project. Good luck to you, and thanks for the link!

  5. Jan Karlsbjerg

    I love lists. They fit with how I think.

    But I don’t agree with Matt above. He does mention that “we love ordered lists” and his examples are of that type, actually they are all a set of instructions: First do this, then do that.

    On the contrary, I think it’s part of the appeal of lists (for blog posts) that they aren’t ordered. Regular text is ordered — you can’t make full sense of a paragraph before you’ve read the ones preceding it. Bulleted lists, on the other hand are perfect for scanning (as you mention, Isabella), and they’re forgiving: You can scan and skip and jump, read them in any order, read every third if you so prefer, etc.

    What I really love about lists, though, is the ability to break them down into multi-level hierarchical lists/structures. Outlines rule! They add detail while preserving most of the desirable properties of lists (you can still scan, skip/jump, etc.).

  6. Jan Karlsbjerg

    I love lists. They fit with how I think.

    But I don’t agree with Matt above. He does mention that “we love ordered lists” and his examples are of that type, actually they are all a set of instructions: First do this, then do that.

    On the contrary, I think it’s part of the appeal of lists (for blog posts) that they aren’t ordered. Regular text is ordered — you can’t make full sense of a paragraph before you’ve read the ones preceding it. Bulleted lists, on the other hand are perfect for scanning (as you mention, Isabella), and they’re forgiving: You can scan and skip and jump, read them in any order, read every third if you so prefer, etc.

    What I really love about lists, though, is the ability to break them down into multi-level hierarchical lists/structures. Outlines rule! They add detail while preserving most of the desirable properties of lists (you can still scan, skip/jump, etc.).

  7. Nancy

    If you haven’t yet, I entirely recommend Merlin Mann’s site http://www.5ives.com It sets the standard for list making!

    I browsed several of the sites – great link love, and fun for your readers to poke around! It was interesting – some were written about topics the person clearly had a passion for, others felt a bit detached, and some of the site look and feels didn’t make the lists easy to read. But in all cases, it felt fun to check out!

  8. Nancy

    If you haven’t yet, I entirely recommend Merlin Mann’s site http://www.5ives.com It sets the standard for list making!

    I browsed several of the sites – great link love, and fun for your readers to poke around! It was interesting – some were written about topics the person clearly had a passion for, others felt a bit detached, and some of the site look and feels didn’t make the lists easy to read. But in all cases, it felt fun to check out!

  9. tess

    Isabella,
    Just wanted to quick answer your question about which lists are my personal favorite from the ones you mentioned. Honestly, I sure didn’t read all of them but I did check out the first 12 or so, plus a few that caught my eye after that. Here are my faves so far, in no particular order.
    I really love lists, always have. Used to make lists of my fave friends, fave colors, etc. 🙂 Still make lots of lists!
    Here’s the one pertinent to your question:

    1. running list: I don’t run, but i felt motivated to do so after this well designed, eye-catching list

    2. 10things i didn’t know about until last week: What a fun thing to write about!

    3. to do to make tomorrow better: cute/clever

    4. top 10 personal development blogs- fun/helpful!

    5. 7steps to fight procrastination: this was a very helpful article. I like the way the author broke down this subject, rather unique!

    6. Encouraging questions: great-I’m a coach/social-worker and love to use these kinds of questions.

  10. tess

    Isabella,
    Just wanted to quick answer your question about which lists are my personal favorite from the ones you mentioned. Honestly, I sure didn’t read all of them but I did check out the first 12 or so, plus a few that caught my eye after that. Here are my faves so far, in no particular order.
    I really love lists, always have. Used to make lists of my fave friends, fave colors, etc. 🙂 Still make lots of lists!
    Here’s the one pertinent to your question:

    1. running list: I don’t run, but i felt motivated to do so after this well designed, eye-catching list

    2. 10things i didn’t know about until last week: What a fun thing to write about!

    3. to do to make tomorrow better: cute/clever

    4. top 10 personal development blogs- fun/helpful!

    5. 7steps to fight procrastination: this was a very helpful article. I like the way the author broke down this subject, rather unique!

    6. Encouraging questions: great-I’m a coach/social-worker and love to use these kinds of questions.

  11. Maritim

    I am not all that enthusiastic about list, I think we risk entering some monotonous regime where everything we do is by list imagine setting out a list of what you’ll do during the day:
    wake up
    shower
    take breakfast………….. it is not normal to me.

  12. Maritim

    I am not all that enthusiastic about list, I think we risk entering some monotonous regime where everything we do is by list imagine setting out a list of what you’ll do during the day:
    wake up
    shower
    take breakfast………….. it is not normal to me.

  13. Jess

    I am a fan of lists. I am used to them. I always make different lists: lists of purchases, lists of the things I must do, lists desired Christmas gifts…

  14. Jess

    I am a fan of lists. I am used to them. I always make different lists: lists of purchases, lists of the things I must do, lists desired Christmas gifts…

  15. Albert | UrbanMonk.Net

    Hey Isabella, good stuff on spreading the link love. You should vote for mine! hahaha…nah just joking. You can see my picks on my own entry, some of the entries are freaking hilarious, especially the domtan one. It’s one of my favourites!

    Cheers, Albert

  16. Albert | UrbanMonk.Net

    Hey Isabella, good stuff on spreading the link love. You should vote for mine! hahaha…nah just joking. You can see my picks on my own entry, some of the entries are freaking hilarious, especially the domtan one. It’s one of my favourites!

    Cheers, Albert

  17. isabella mori

    thank you all very much for your comments. i’m waiting for some more input from the people i’ve tagged in the post and then i’ll summarize all the things you’ve said.

    i really love having all these different opinions. one of the reasons why i can’t stop playing around in the blogosphere!

  18. isabella mori

    thank you all very much for your comments. i’m waiting for some more input from the people i’ve tagged in the post and then i’ll summarize all the things you’ve said.

    i really love having all these different opinions. one of the reasons why i can’t stop playing around in the blogosphere!

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