list Confession time: I have something of a like/dislike relationship with list posts on a blog. On any blog.

On one hand, list posts are a fast and fairly easy way to get content out on the Web. And, if done properly, they can be useful and informative.

On the other hand, list posts can be a lazy blogger’s way to slap together a post and, maybe, squeeze out some Google Juice. In many cases, list posts are packed with SEO keywords and aren’t as useful as they could be.

While I don’t write all that many list posts, I try to make the ones that I do write interesting and informative. I might not always succeed, but it can be done.

Let’s take a look at how I try to write good list posts.

Focus is the key

Just like any other writing, when putting together a list post you need to focus. And that starts with the topic. It’s easy to cobble together a post titled Six useful pieces of software. But useful to who? Focus on your audience. Maybe it’s six pieces of writing software, or six Web apps that writers will find useful.

Focus doesn’t just apply to the topic, but on the number of items in the post. For me, between four and seven items is optimal. I generally write posts that look at four or five items. For me, writing anything more is often belaboring the point.

Do some research

It’s possible to come up with a decent list post right off the top of your head. But why settle for decent? Why not try to make the post good? Or better.

To do that, do some research. Look beyond what you already know. Find something interesting or unique or contrarian.

Go against the grain

Sure, you can write a post titled 10 blogs every writer should read or 7 phrases to avoid. But everyone does that.

Instead, be contrarian. How about writing a post like 6 pieces of writing advice you should ignore or 10 ways to effectively procrastinate? Posts like that draw attention and, if they’re written with passion and conviction, will keep readers coming back.

Which brings me to my next point: don’t write a contrarian post just to be contrarian. Write about what you think and feel. Everything, and everyone else, be darned.

Add some depth

That sounds like a bit of a contradiction, doesn’t it? List posts are supposed to be quick and short.

There isn’t any reason why you can’t add a bit of depth to a list post. For me, the best list post is a hybrid of a simple bullet list and a roundup post. For each point, add a sentence that expands on that point. No more than 10 to 15 words.

Distilling your thoughts and opinions into that small space can be quite the challenge. And doing it well is even tougher. You might not always succeed, but it’s a good exercise to help you write tightly.

Wherever possible, add links. Links help add a little more depth. Don’t, though, substitute links for actual thoughts and ideas no matter how tempting it might be.

Summing up

If you choose to write list posts, try to make them a bit different from the ones that you see all over the Web. Doing that will set you apart from other bloggers and challenge you as a writer.

Thoughts? As always, your comments are welcome.

Photo credit: xololounge from Morguefile