By Holly A. Bell
Like I do most mornings I started my day by going to a popular website that is supposed to bring together some of the best business articles on the web. The front page alone had 6 articles containing lists of allegedly important information you need to know. Among them: “7 Easy Ways to Speed Up Your Business Computer” and “5 Mobile Trends Brands Need to Watch”. It’s nice to know most business issues can be summed up in a few salient points. I’m not a great fan of the “list” article, yet online editors seem to love them. Here are 5 reasons to dislike these articles:
1. Quick fixes not long-term solutions. While I can appreciate the ability to take complex business problems and break them down into bite size pieces, the oversimplification created by these articles makes me cringe. A business problem usually can’t be solved in two sentences under a numbered bullet. I always feel like they are confusing complex business problems with a 30 minute TV sitcom.
2. Generalizations. These articles diminish our ability to fully analyze what is going on in our specific business or industry. They turn us into generalists who assume there is a single set of solutions for each type of business problem. We also live in fear that we should be doing something we’re not, or that everyone else IS doing something we’re not. Just because an article lists 5 reasons businesses should use social media doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for your business.
3. It’s an ad. All too often these articles are simply well veiled advertising for a product or service. Often the product being advertised is the author who has a website, consulting business, or upcoming workshop. Look closely next time.
4. Confusing form with function and art with life. Technical writing professionals will tell you short bullet points are the best way to get and keep a person’s attention. Editors will tell you lists are much more visually appealing to readers than paragraphs. As a reader you are essentially committing to only two or three sentences at a time, not an entire article. Editors value visual stimulation using white space and pictures over substance, yet this format doesn’t allow for the depth most subjects require.
5. Creating short attention spans. If I hadn’t made this article a list you wouldn’t have stuck with it until the end.
Holly A. Bell is a business professor, author, analyst, and blogger who lives in the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska. You can visit her website at www.thetollingbell.com.