x ways to write a headline that are sure to drive me crazy 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Where x = 1.

Can we just stick a fork in this sloppy habit of writing “numbered list” headlines on ‘Net sites? It’s as bad as the “one weird trick” ad line.

From alternet.org: 11 Things Americans Get Wrong About Australia; 11 Jobs Where an Honest Day’s Work Earns You Poverty

From thoughtcatalog.com: 59 Quick Slang Phrases From The 1920s We Should Start Using Again; 15 Things College Friends Teach Us

And then there’s cracked.com, which I blame for foisting this craptastic habit on the Internet: 5 Ways Growing Up Inside Scientology Was a Nightmare; 30 Most Baffling Design Flaws of Popular Products.

Here’s the thing, people. Writing an article about the top x things means nothing when x can be any flippin’ number from 2 to infinity. If it was a definite number, “the top 10,” “the top 5,” then it would mean something. It would suggest that the writer gave the topic some, you know, thought, weeded out the less important stuff, and only picked what the writer thinks we need to know most.

That’s kinda the job of a good writer, ya think?

Making up a list of items until you run out of ideas, and then deciding x = that number is lazy thinking, lazy writing, lazy editing. Worse yet is the lazy habit of making the headline quote the number. It telegraphs to the reader that the writer had no decent ideas for a story. “Hey, I got it! I’ll make a list of stuff about something, and call it “23 items of great stuff we should know about something.”

Why are there only 11 things that Americans get wrong about Australia? Are you sure there aren’t 12? Or 53? Have you done a survey to find out?

Why are there 59 quick slang words and phrases from the 1920s we should start using again? Why not a 100? Why any at all? Why don’t we all start talking in blank verse, or Middle English, prithee?

That’s my one weird trick to improve your writing. Be creative!

That is all. Carry on.

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2 thoughts on “x ways to write a headline that are sure to drive me crazy

  1. Reply PK Jan 24,2014 1:10 am

    I can’t stand this trend either. (See most stories posted on Buzzfeed). Unfortunately, these sorts of headlines appear to be catnip in terms of click-throughs. Perhaps people are responding to the definitiveness represented by the number: if I click on this link, they reason, I’ll get SPECIFIC ANSWERS. Weird, but seems to make sense.

  2. Reply Thomas E Clay Jr Jan 24,2014 6:12 am

    I look forward to your top 10 pet peeves John. 😉

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