Link to this page

Writing Articles: What's a Listicle ... And How Do I Write One That Sticks?

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Updated 5.30.24

List + Article = Listicle (prounced list-ick-kuhl, like “popsicle.”)

It’s a catchall phrase for any article in list form.

Listicles are popular for lots of reasons: they are fun to read, easy to write, offer practical or unusual information, and are sharable – which is especially important online.

Plus, they are versatile. You can write these types of list-articles for any type of publication, from the web to social media, print magazines, newsletters, children’s publications, young adult publications, as how-tos, features, fillers … the options are endless.

How to write a listicle: 5 article writing tips for this unique type of article or blog post with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter

What's the Structure?

The structure is what makes these articles unique.

  1. The list is numbered (like this one.)
  2. The number of items is announced in the headline.
  3. Each item on the list makes a separate point.

But that same structure that makes the format unique can be its downfall. For writers, it can be tempting to use a numbered list as a crutch ... and your list-article is tedious or hackneyed.

It needn’t be.

5 Tips for Writing Listicles that Stick

1. Write a Headline that Contains a Surprise

The most urgent writing tip for a list-article is this: write a fun headline. You need to find a special twist or unique approach for your content and then indicate that slant in the headline. At all costs avoid writing a trite or predictable headline, like this one:

  • 5 Tips for Writing Better Articles

Snore. Any writer wants to write better articles. But with an overwhelming amount of accessible content, I need a more compelling reason than “better” to read the article. That’s why this approach is more captivating:

  • Avoid These 5 Article Writing Pitfalls at Your Peril

This headline slant surprises me. Normally I don’t consider writing to be a perilous pastime. Yet I don’t want to fall into a writing trap, so at the very least I will skim the article list thereby assuring myself that I’m not making a big mistake.Ta-Dah! The headline got the reader to read the listicle. 

Or what about this one?

  •  5 Boredom-Busting Tips for Overhauling Your Articles

Your article has a greater chance of getting read if the headline is fun and easy to read. This one sounds like a good time! If I’m a reader, I’d be sure to check it out.

(By the way, “5 Tips for Writing Listicles That Stick” - the header of this section - slips past the snooze-o-meter and into the fun category because of the word “listicles,” their “stickiness,” and because those two words rhyme.) 

Once you have a headline with a twist, you’ll be able to easily add content that leans into that slant.

2. Decide What Type of List You Will Write 

List articles come in a few standard types. 

  • Personal experience: Write about what you know firsthand. (Be sure to include “I” in the headline.)

          5 Ways I Re-Purposed My Website Content to Write Fresh Articles

  • Advice: Your list can be a combination of personal insight and guidance from experts. (Tip: this is a good opportunity to include “How To” in the headline.)

          Build Your Open-Rate with These 5 Kinds of Articles

  • Researched Lists: Dig deep into a topic and then report what you find.

          How 5 Veteran Nonprofit Leaders Find New Article Content Each                    Month

  • Editorial lists: Study trends and process them with a particular slant.

          Millennials Click Through These 5 Types of Articles Every Day

  • Mega Lists: Many points listed together.

          55 Articles that Teach You to Write Headlines

3. Choose the Length of List You Will Write 

  • Short lists: less than 10 items

          3 Cost-Saving Fundraising Tips for a Down Economy

  • Standard numbers: lists of ten, a dozen, or a baker’s dozen

          10 Commandments for Writing Nonprofit Newsletters

  • Long lists (or mega lists): each item can stand on its own. Tip: make this kind of list article more accessible to readers when you group items in categories with brief subheads to guide the reader.

          38 Ways Your Nonprofit Is Unique

4. Use an Odd Number 

Best-sellers 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Steven Covey, first released in 1990) and 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (John Maxwell, 1997): what do they have in common?

Odd numbers in the titles. Recent research by marketing firm Outbrain shows that odd-numbered list articles outperformed even-numbered list articles by 20%.

How can you be sure you end up with an odd number of list items?

  • Start with more information than you need
  • Organize your list. If you have an even number of items for your list article, then eliminate the weakest item from the list (8 becomes 7). Or divide the strongest item on your list and make it into to two to achieve an odd number (6 becomes 7).

Tip: if at all possible use a prime number – a number only divisible by itself. People remember prime numbers because they are unusual.

5. Use a Numeral

Numbers jump out to the human eye. Do not spell out the number (“Nine”) but use the actual numeral (“9”).

Exception: there are occasions in which odd numbers are simply not possible. For instance, if your church has 4 campuses, you cannot create a headline and list article that says you have 3 or 5 locations.

Bonus Writing Tip For Listicles

Close your article-list one of two ways.

  1. Write a snappy summary.
  2. Write a final list item that’s a kicker, whether it’s an unusual point, an unexpected turn, or one last thought-provoking idea. (Like this one. It’s a bonus!)

More about Writing Articles

Learn To Write Content When You Learn To Write an Article ...

How to Write An Article: Get Started With These 12 Steps ...

3 Article Formats You Can Learn to Write Easily ...

Choose a Story Angle Using These 3 Tips ...

Write an Article or Write a Book? Here’s How to Decide ...

Article Writing Tips: News Story vs Feature Story – What’s the Difference?

Writing Articles FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions ...

Top article writing tip: The One Point Rule ...

What Is a Feature Article? Think News Story on Steroids ...

How to Write a How To Article that gets read from start to finish ...

How to Write an Outline: Article Writing Tips ...

Tips for Writing a Hook for Your Article ...

The Inverted Pyramid: Article Writing Format for Online Content, Too ...

Include these 5 different types of articles in your newsletter ...

How to Write a Sidebar that Adds Value to an Article ...

Top newsletter article tips: how to make sure your articles get read ... 

29 kinds of newsletter articles you can write ...

Writing Blogs vs. Writing Articles: Is There a Difference?

What is free content? FAQs ...

Content ideas to build your audience and your list ...

More Writing Articles Tips on our Pinterest board ...

Return from What's a Listicle to Nonprofit Copywriter home

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Powered by SBI! Learn more here.
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Search This Site

Share This Page


Named to 2022 Writer's Digest list

Get Free Writing Tips

Stop Wasting Time!

Grab your exclusive FREE guide, "5 Simple Writing Tips You Can Put to Use in 10 Minutes or Less"

XML RSSSubscribe To This Site
  • follow us in feedly
  • Add to My Yahoo!