4 and ½ reasons why listicles are cancerous

By Ray O'Reilly

Though they may go viral, like viruses (or even journalistic cancer), listicles are bound to kill off their host eventually.

Monday 2 March 2015

You've had a brainwave on the way to work: people don't know enough about the merits of different stud types used in upholstering or the tantalising ways to spice up your relationship with your cat, or the tasty ways to dress a pavlova… Now what?

Social wisdom says you should write down these fabulous ideas but not in a traditionally formulated article or in a format that requires concentration or the ability to retain a series of consecutive ideas, but rather in elaborated bullets commonly known as a ‘listicle'. And make sure you include a really long sentence as an introduction to show just how annoying properly formulated language can be before you launch your list of points that everyone can follow without straining much of anything.

Once you have your ideas, you need to decide how to list them, as a series of numbers usually needs explaining. And wikiHow helps here by telling us how to do this. Note: It is important when putting your listicle together to avoid original research, and to be sure to pepper your piece with unsubstantiated information ‘harvested' from other online resources.

The “world's most popular how-to website” offers three main ways to construct your listicle. You can rank the list, for example from worst to best, or deadliest, or most interesting, or least creepy, etc.. Alternatively, you can centre it around a theme, such as visiting relatives who live overseas. FInally, there are random lists, but this can apparently leave the reader irritated by the lack of conclusions.

How can you fail to become a successful listicler (yes, I made that up) with such advice?

“It's so easy you wonder why everyone doesn't do it until you realise that now it's all they do: Come up with an idea… that won't actually tax you at all as a writer/thinker; pen some short blurbs peppered with limp barbs… hit publish; watch the page views spike…” wrote one blogger mockingly.

3, 2, 1, listicle

This piece has surely already failed to keep most people's attention with its six-paragraph preamble, so the only thing to do is to launch the listicle… and confound the doubters.

1 What listicism says about you: A listicle says “I'm really so clever at making banal things sound interesting… check this out!”, while serious calls for statements more like “I'm really so clever at making complicated things sound simple… and simple things sound complicated!” No wait, that got really confusing! See what happens when you try to ‘listicise' (I made that up too) without a Listicular Handling Certificate.

2 Career-maker, heart-breaker: If you're looking to build a career selling cigarettes to teenagers in Bangladesh, becoming a listicle guru is a good training ground. The trick is to make even sickening things seem alluring, things that would ordinarily have you struck off from a profession or worshipped by gorilla graffiti artists.

3 Dead-ends and : Everyone is a journalist nowadays… and thanks to the declining standards and pay scales to match, and the ever-flowing graduates from ‘communications' schools worldwide, we have an eternal source of grateful interns to keep churning out content befitting the billions of communications experts hooked up to like drug-fucked monkeys in a lab. (I thought about ‘drug-addled' but where's the zing in that?).

4 Viruses and flesh-eating bacteria: One can only imagine that like viruses or flesh-eating bacteria, eventually listicles are bound to kill off their host and with it all hope of keeping up to snuff on the ten best uses for pretzels, or the 14 worst ways you can scrub shit off your trainers, or the four worst songs to follow the third song on a ‘best of' album with 12 songs in total… I think you get!

Just cancer: It's important in serious journalism to tie back somehow to your catchy title.

Our wikiHow friends offer a note of caution about listicles:

“The advice to write everything in bullet points so that the lazy online reader can spot the information without having to move any eye muscles works for many short blogs but it also fails to draw in serious readership and ultimately lacks journalistic integrity if it's the only form of writing you rely upon. Think more highly of your readers and add listicles infrequently as a way to give them a breather from your juicier and more original writing.”

Expect an in-depth analysis on Chronikler of how listicles have lowered average IQs by X% and the most unlikely ways to grow mushrooms in a dorm room in full detail.


  • Ray O'Reilly

    Ray O'Reilly writes like he thinks… between the lines. Formerly a columnist for (A)WAY, an English-language magazine in Belgium, today Ray focuses on script-writing projects, blogging and avoiding parties.

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