Six reasons why ‘five reasons why’ articles are so common

Posted on April 20, 2016


In an era when making it big on social media is highly lucrative, sites like Buzzfeed, CollegeHumor and Cracked have discovered a clever yet simple format of article that keeps on being shared, clicked and commented upon.

There appears to be no end to what entertainment sites can squeeze a list-style piece out of. Last week, I even stumbled upon something as niche as ‘21 Life Skills That Are All Too Real When You’re From The Wirral’. Sites like Buzzfeed appear to have decided that round numbers like 5 and 10 are a bit too square for them and are better suited to professional advice how-to guides, so they often opt for more arbitrary figures like 21 and 27.

At Engage Web, we like to think we’re both entertaining and professional, so we’ve settled on six reasons why we think ‘X examples of Y’ articles are so prevalent. After all, five is a boring number, but seven is just anarchy.

1. They’re quick to write

It has to be said that this style of writing is an excellent way to make a little content go a long way. Even if they’re not driven by images, it’s not uncommon to see list-style articles with a pretty meagre word count.

Breaking a piece down into a handful of ideas is a good idea for a writer looking to overcome the ‘blank page’ dilemma and get started on an article with a beginning, middle and end.

2. They have a pleasantly punchy style

The way we like to take in information is not dissimilar to the way we would choose to present it. While many of us like to get buried in a wordy book from time to time, a lot of people just want to read short, sharp sentences. Such a style makes for ideal reading on mobile devices while on the train, for example.

3. They get people talking

• How could you miss out this one?
• I totally agree with number 3
• What’s number 5 doing in there?
• Number 4 should have been number 1

Since list articles are usually aimed at a certain type of reader, they’re bound to provoke discussion on a subject that the reader feels they know better than the writer. Any of the above comments on Facebook or Twitter, though some might appear critical, are ‘engagement’, and social media sites naturally see pages that are being interacted with as being more important.

4. They’re a good way to integrate images

It’s no secret that the web is becoming more and more image-centric, and that Facebook posts accompanied by an image are likely to get more engagement. List articles easily break a piece down into small, image-friendly nuggets. Indeed, many of them have barely any text at all other than words to the effect of “look at this picture”, “and now look at this one”, and so on.

5. They allow content to be reused

We’re getting into the more cynical depths now, but it’s not hard to spot that a lot of these list articles use the same images or smart Alec quips time and time again. It’s a good way to present old material in a new way, not that we would ever do such a thing ourselves, of course!

6. They drive advertising

Lastly, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of ‘five reasons to’ articles are swimming with ads. Some sites will give you one factor per page and make you click ‘next’ to see the next one, often sneakily placing an arrow-shaped advert in there as well in the hope that you’ll click it. It’s annoying, and a bit old-fashioned in my opinion, but it still seems to work.

So, what did you think? Have we missed any out? Let us know in the comments box below.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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