This article was first published on Medium in March 2019. How to write a throw-away article that no one will read.
Let’s face it. Writing is difficult. If you want to write a best selling novel it takes time, energy, talent, and all sorts of hard work. Writing throw-away articles for the internet on the other hand, is easy. So easy any schmuck with a keyboard can do it. If you have a keyboard, today is your lucky day!
One of the best throw-away article formats is a list, sometimes called a “listicle.” Lists are great and the longer the better, but it’s okay to have short lists too. (Remember, no one will actually read your list.)
Start writing by coming up with a catchy headline about your list. Begin with the number of items in your list and then describe them. Usually it should look something like this:
10 Things I Like Doing On A Saturday
Ah, but we’ve made a vital mistake. We’ve made this list about US. To properly write a listicle you need to make the list about the READER.
10 Things You Like Doing On A Saturday
Good work! You’re off to a good start.
A good list article will have a sense of urgency to it. While “4 Movies You Should Be Looking Forward To This Summer” is good, “16 Films You MUST SEE Before You Die” is better. It adds a sense of need and readers love being told what they must do.
The tighter the deadline the better the article will be. Which title seems more urgent to you? “30 Books to Read Before You Turn 30” or “600 Films You Need To See Before Friday.” (Hint: it’s the second one.)
It’s always good to assume that your audience is made up of complete morons who are incapable of securing the velcro on their shoes. Use this information to help guide your headline creation.
20 Books You’d Enjoy If You Were Smart Enough To Read Them
Now that’s a great headline. But it’s a headline about books and reading is pretty unpopular, especially by people on the internet. Let’s tweak it to make it more relevant.
50 Reddit Comments You’d Die Laughing Over If You Were Capable of Reading Them
This creates a challenge for the reader. They think: I’m capable of reading… aren’t I? And just like that you’ve managed to insult them and get them to read your article all in one fell swoop.
Another good tactic is to tell the reader that they are stupid because they don’t know things. It doesn’t matter if they actually know things or not, you just have to imply that they don’t. That’s the magic of listicles. Here’s a few good examples:
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Toilet Paper
27 Facts You Didn’t Know that You Didn’t Know
45 Mistakes You Make Every Day Without Knowing It
Once you’ve exhausted this style you can change it up by implying that the reader won’t believe what you plan to tell them in the article. This is also a surefire way to get people to like you and be your best friends.
17 Numbers You Won’t Believe are Less Than 20!
After you’ve mastered this concept, you can start mixing, matching and combining these to create the best of all headlines.
37 Words You Won’t Believe You Never Knew You Were Using Wrong That You Need To Learn Before Your Next Paycheck
Reminder: Never use wish-washy words like “might,” instead use stronger words like “never” and “only.” No one wants to read “50 Foods That Might Not Need To Be Refrigerated” but everyone’s clamoring about “52 Food Items You Should Never Put In Your Fridge.”
Now, chances are that no one will actually read your article, but that doesn’t mean you can get away without writing it. Moron.
Coming up with items for your list can be difficult, but it’s often easier than you think. Most of the time other people have already done the work for you. If your article is on “Life Changing Kitchen Hacks That Every Millennial Should Thoroughly Grok” you don’t actually need to know any kitchen hacks. You only need to know “kitchen facts” and then write about them like you’ve discovered the cure for cancer.
Don’t know any kitchen facts? That’s okay. Just follow these steps to learn all the kitchen facts you need:
- Go to the kitchen.
- Call your mom. (If your Mom’s not at home or your living on your own, you can use Face Time or Skype to contact her.)
- Point to various items in the kitchen and ask “What does this do?”
- Document the answers for later embellishment.
- And that’s it! You’ve now learned kitchen facts that you can turn into life-changing kitchen hacks!
Remember, your audience is stupid so you need to pretend to be stupid too. That is, pretend that you also used to be a drooling slug-brained carpet-square, but have now seen the light and become a famous internet writer. Because… well, you have!
Your notes from your mom probably say things like:
“Zip-lock bag. Use it to store things in, possibly food, need to run your finger along the zipper to lock it closed. Seems to be made of a transparent cloth known as ‘plastic’.”
But that just sounds stupid. To really sell this as a kitchen hack you need to make it more exciting.
Write this instead: Store uneaten food in clear bags so you can see what is in each one! Ever wonder why bag openings are colored different and have hard lines on them? You can lock the bag closed by pinching the colored area between your thumb and finger and sliding it along the top of the bag! Boom. Your food is safely stored!
Congratulations! You’ve just changed someone’s life with this useful tip about kitchen etiquette that they have literally never heard from anyone else in their entire life.
Sometimes you can’t find enough items for your list. If your article headline says you’ll have “68 Recipes You’ll Never Believe Contain Vegetables” It’s no good if you can only find 59 recipes for your list. This is when you have to get creative. Sometimes it’s as easy as using the same item twice, only with a little twist.
For example, when writing “12 Items You Should Use With Your Cheese Grater” it’s okay to list both “cheese” (probably make that number 1 or 2) but you could also say “cheddar cheese” for a different number. (Maybe number 10.) Don’t worry if it feels like you are singling out Cheddar, you’re just filling up your list… and no one will read this article anyway.
Pro-tip: Sometimes you can just pull random list items from past articles and place them in your new list. They don’t even need to match. No one is going to notice and certainly no one is going to complain. (Yes, the bar is that low.)
Once you’ve finished your list, you’ll probably need a picture for each item. Just steal them from Google or another website that has already created a similar list. There’s no reason to do any difficult work if you can profit off of someone else’s labor. Don’t be afraid to use the same image for multiple list items when possible.
Congratulations! You now know how to be a famous internet author who can write garbage throw-away articles, thus making the planet a better place full of useful information.