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The Science Behind Why We Love Lists

Updated on October 16, 2016

Lists are Convenient

People Love Lists

If you are a writer and you don't know that the list is the most popular writing format among readers, you must have been living under a rock! We all love lists. List are concise, they are to the point, they attract your attention and they inform. People even write lists ABOUT lists - that is just how much we love them.

Numbered, bullet pointed, or marked with dashes, lists—a venerable media format—have become one of the most ubiquitous ways to package content on the internet. But did you know that there is scientific evidence as to why we love lists so much?

A List of Reasons Lists are Popular

  • They are concise
  • Readers know what they are in for
  • Lists are familiar
  • Lists are simple
  • They promise instant knowledge
  • Lists can be edited in a flash
  • Lists allow us to keep track of things
  • Lists are quick
  • They look appealing

The Numbers Behind Lists

People may love lists, but there are certain lists that draw our attention more than others. The infamous "Top Ten" lists are scientifically proven to be more attractive to readers than a list featuring a different number of points. This is because human beings naturally partition the world into round numbers.

Life is just simpler when we tell someone we will be there by 5:00 p.m., instead of saying we will be there by 5:02 p.m. Asking your employees to come up with 10 to 15 ideas is just more natural than asking them to come up with 7-13 ideas. We live in a chaotic world and we are constantly hunting for anything to help us simplify our lives. Something both lists and rounded numbers do.

Nowhere is this tendency toward round numbers more prevalent than on lists, and nowhere are lists more prevalent than on the Internet. It is human instinct for us to round things to five and ten. It's just easier.

"The human animal differs from the lesser primates in his passion for lists." – H. Allen Smith, American Journalist

Lists Appeal to the Left Side of Our Brain

Left Brain versus Right Brain

Recognizing faces
Critical thinking
Expressing emotions
Reading emotions
The functions of the left brain versus the function of the right brain.

So Why DO We Love Lists?

Science can explain why lists are so attractive to us. Lists appeal to the left side of our brain - the portion of the brain that is analytical, logical and objective. The left side of our brain helps us understand things, learn knew information and figure things out. The right side of our brain is known as our "creative" side, and manages our intuition and is more irrational and illogical than the left side of the brain.

While the right side of our brain is better at looking at something as a whole, the left side of our brain is analytical, and enjoys breaking things down into parts in order to get a better understanding.

Not only do lits appeal to the left side of our brain, they also appeal to our innate desire to categorize things. We categorize everything in our life - it is our primal way of understanding things we learn every day. Lists restore order in a world where we are inundated with far too much information at one time. This type of organization facilitates immediate understanding and allows us to easily recall facts.

Lists appeal to all of the things that make the left brain go nuts - logic, order, sequence, rhyme and reason.

Lists Attract the Attention of Readers

Survey for Writers

Do you utilize lists when you write?

See results

Why Writers Should Utilize Lists

Writers can utilize lists to increase traffic and make their content look more attractive to their audience. Lists can be a great way to expand your audience, highlight your main points and simplify complex information.

In what ways do writers benefit from writing lists?

  • They allow the reader to "scan" their content for main ideas
  • They appeal to the readers logical brain
  • They are easy to read
  • They are easy to comprehend
  • They don't cause the brain to go into overdrive due to information overload

Scienctific evidence proves that lists are effective ways of communicating ideas and increasing traffic to your content. If you like to write, and you want people to read what you write, start making lists.

Tips for Writing Lists

Here are some tips for writing lists that attract readers, keep their attention and encourage readers to share your content:

  • Introduce each list
  • Write the list in a cohesive order
  • Keep each item short and to the point
  • Utilize bold and italics only when necessary
  • Don't include irrelevant information
  • Don't ramble on and on

By implementing lists in your writing, you will help your reader comprehend your message more effectively and in a more efficient manner.


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    • Kathleen Odenthal profile image

      Kathleen Odenthal 3 years ago from Bridgewater

      Thanks Kevin! I wasn't sure where this was going to end up when I started but I wound up learning a lot! Glad you did too!

    • The Examiner-1 profile image

      The Examiner-1 3 years ago

      Very good one Kathleen. I use a lot of lists. I have been told that I am using them too often. I tried to change because I thought that I was using too much paper. They stuck. I voted this up, shared and pinned it, it is very useful.


    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 3 years ago from India

      Hmm... good to know, an interesting ans useful read :)