The Ambidextrous Travel Writer

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer:

The Ambidextrous Travel Writer is a monthly advice column for travel writers & bloggers, written by author Susan Farewell.

10 Pros and Cons for Top 10 Lists

Top Ten lists
7 November 2011 Post Author:
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For my site, FarewellTravels, we just posted a piece about 10 great winter retreats.

Putting it together got me thinking about the whole formula of using top ten lists in travel writing.

Why are they so popular among bloggers and site editors? Are they really a smart choice when preparing content?

I decided to weigh the pros and cons and here’s what I came up with, 5 of each.

Pros

  1. Readers love them. Lists generally provide quick, easy-to-grasp information.
  2. Easy to write: Usually they’re short and don’t require telling a story or adhering to an elaborate outline.
  3. Easy to edit: One of the restaurants you recommend closes in the middle of putting the piece together? No problem. Choose another one.
  4. Easily promotable. “Ten Trends in Airline Travel,” “Top Ten Airline Carry-On Foods.” Add a link, a few hash tags and you’ve got your tweet. Plus traditional media outlets generally love top ten lists.
  5. Easy to update year after year. Once you’ve come up with your list, you know what you’re looking for and can easily make it an annual feature.

Cons

  1. Can seem arbitrary and arrogant. Who are you declaring that these inns, these restaurants, or islands belong on a short list?
  2. Can be exclusive. You pick one bed and breakfast you love but what about the one you haven’t been to that’s right down the street? Not fair.
  3. Does not necessarily showcase good writing. Good travel writing is more than just informational. It has impressions, there are stories to be told. A list doesn’t give you a chance to capture this.
  4. Can be overused as an editorial format. Do too many 10 lists and you loose your credibility.
  5. There’s not always ten. This is an example itself. I can’t think of another con.

My conclusion? Use them in moderation. Maybe even allow yourself a set number of lists a year. One a season? One a month? Too many lists will lead to top 10 reasons you should choose another profession.

~ Susan

How do you feel about ‘top 10 lists’? Share your opinion!


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8 Responses to “10 Pros and Cons for Top 10 Lists”

  1. I loathe “Top Ten’ Lists. They are shallow and uninformative. Pros nos. 2 to 4 above are only pros because of lazy editors and writers. Pro No. 1 is wishful thinking. Additional cons: they are already WAY too overdone; they give little insight into a place; it is ridiculous to rank places on earth which will mean different things to different people – and a ‘Top Ten’, by its very nature, purports to be a ranking.

    • I respect your opinion, and know others who share it, but I have to disagree that Pro No. 1 is wishful thinking – “Top Ten” lists generally draw a significant increase in traffic, however temporarily, to a site, and attract more link-backs than many other types of articles, so it’s clear that they are in fact popular with many readers.

      I also disagree that they are “shallow and uninformative”, or that they “give little insight” – these may be your opinions, but not everyone shares them. I have read many such lists that were very well researched, articulately fleshed out, offered great insight and reasoning….not the work of a “lazy” writer (or editor).

      Personally I like Top Ten lists, and find them informative and helpful, as long as they are based on experience or factual data.

      Top Ten lists aren’t intended to serve all people equally – as you point out, they will mean different things to different people – but I don’t find it ridiculous to construct rankings……if one puts together a list of the Top Ten Most Popular Beaches, and bases the list on travel and tourism statistics, then it’s an informative, fact-based ranking. Other lists may be someone’s opinion or the result of a survey, but when I’m looking for information often what I want most is someone’s opinion.

      As long as things/places can be ranked, and as long as people like to share their favorites, and as long as readers keep flocking to them, Top Ten and other similar lists will be around to stay.

      • Lola
        Twitter:
        says:

        I agree with Trisha. Many of these lists can be deep, well researched and quite informative, plus here are outlets that still pay upwards of $1,000 for these types of articles so I’d say they’re “no-brainers” in terms of accepting to write them for freelancers.

  2. Rebecca
    Twitter:
    says:

    I can understand ‘why’ bloggers and writers write Top 10 lists: they’re easily read and scanned by readers. Some publications are now analyzing the level of difficulty of blog posts and articles using The Flesch Readability Test. For example, I was informed that my articles were rated as ‘fairly difficult’ to understand. I was stunned! Newspaper reporters write articles at a 5th grade level of understanding. This isn’t ideal but…

    • I think there are a variety of factors at play – time limitations, an overall decrease in reading comprehension skills, shorter attention spans, to name just a few….. and it’s easy to see why many publications are favoring shorter articles that are clear, concise, and to the point.

      And for the record, I don’t find your articles difficult to understand! :)

  3. Hi,

    I both have a pro and a con.
    Pro: not only readers love them but Search Engines too. Usually “top 5″ and “top 10″ combined with niche keywords reach high traffic in SE queries.

    Cron: These lists are rather general and something users like to browse but usually they don’t really contain any useful data.. like reading about top 10 beaches of the world can be real fun, but there’s no chance one can visit them all.. :)

    Keep up!

    • Hi Lorand – thanks for stopping by and commenting…..every voice and opinion is welcome here!

      However I must disagree with your “con” (see my reply to Annette above) – although I can’t argue that some lists are just fluff, I find many that do contain useful data. As for “no chance” of seeing all of the top 10 beaches? I know there are many people who live for such challenges, and I count myself among them. Depending upon whose list one is reading at any given moment, I’ve been to quite a few of what are considered the “top” beaches in the world, and I fully intend to check off as many as possible! And even for dreamers, the fun of reading about them is enough for such a list to be created……one should always have dreams and goals, yes?

  4. Zi Zi Bright
    Twitter:
    says:

    I dislike top ten list that are too broad..like top ten Beaches in the World.. I am more interested when it narrowed down a bit like top ten beaches on the East Coast of Africa..

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