Why People Hate Top 10 Lists

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It looks like the first televised top ten lists appeared on The Dick Clark Show in 1958. Every Saturday night, Dick Clark would feature a list of the top ten records of the week. More than 30 years later, David Letterman aired his first top ten list on Late Night (September 18, 1985: “Top 10 Things That Almost Rhyme With Peas”).

Humans like getting their information in list form. Just pick a topic and then the words ‘best’ or ‘worst’ and it seems like you’ve got an audience online, which may explain why there are over 860 million results when you type ‘top 10’ into Google’s search engine.

The most popular lists are either informative or funny. My favorite lists are both. Speaking from experience, if people hate your top 10 list they definitely let you know in the comments.

First, let me emphasize that I personally don’t hate any of the lists I’ve used as examples. Now, here are my top 10 reasons why people hate top 10 lists or Why Top 10 Lists Suck:

10. Subjective

top-10-guitarists

The Top 10 Greatest Guitar Players list is so subjective that over 300 people have left comments …and not one of them has agreed with the writer’s selection. It seems like it doesn’t really matter what choices the writer made, the list was going to offend the personal taste of multitudes of people.

I’m putting this type of list at number 10 because, while some people might not like this sort of list, they often lead to comments that are a great read. In the example above, the comments section becomes an inspiring and comprehensive list of great guitarists. Similar topics such as Top 10 Grunge Guitarists and Top 10 Metal Guitarists also caused a lot of controversy.

Other lists are subjective in that they are only interesting to a small group of people who actually care about the subject matter. The Top 10 Moments in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is probably only going to be interesting to fans of the video game. It’s a great list if you are a fan and it might have inspired a few readers to check the game out, but the rest of the readers would not have been interested in the topic. Nicole comments, “This game is definitely a classic that I don’t ever see myself getting sick of” versus Chuy, who sums it up for the rest of the general population: “Nerdy List.”

9. Expansive

top-10-beatles-songs

Some topics are too expansive to be narrowed down to just ten things. It’s no surprise that one commenter called the Top 10 Songs by the Beatles list “audacious,” while several others remarked that only a top 100 list could do the Beatles song catalog justice. Of course a top 100 list is not an option when you are writing for a site called TopTenz.

Another example of this type of list is Top 10 Sad Songs That Make You Cry. One commenter, Sarah, points out: “open this list up to country songs it would be a Top 100 list.” Yet, even the narrower topic of tear-jerking rock songs is very expansive- so much so, that the list expanded into a sequel called 10 More Songs To Make You Cry (see #8 below). Even 20 Sad Songs is not enough – over 50 people suggested different sad songs in the comment section of the second list.

8. Misleading

top 10 hats

Some lists call themselves a ‘top 10 list’ but actually do not include any kind of ranking or criteria, like Top 10 Hats. Readers might assume that the hats are ranked according to the writer’s personal hat preference, but it’s not specified. This annoys the fastidious reader (the same readers who will leave a stern comment if your prone to making common spelling or grammatical errs).

Persnickety people would also point out that 10 More Songs To Make You Cry doesn’t even pretend to be a top 10 list. I mean, for heaven’s sake, the title doesn’t even match the rest of the lists on the site! Head. Popping. Off. Now.

7. Lazy Writing

writers-block

At best, lazy writing seems uninspired; at worst, a lazy writer’s list will also fit into several of the other 9 spots on this list you are reading right now. Sometimes it seems like a list is being used to overcome writer’s block: you just need a topic and some basic criteria (funniest, scariest, longest, most influential) and then suddenly you have something to write about. This is an endless source for material because there appears to be no limitations to topics you can put into list format. Heck, there are even lists of lists, quite possibly the laziest type of top 10 list. Of course there are exceptions, such as The Top 20 Top 10 Lists of 2010– it was timely and the writer showed impeccable taste.

6. Limited

There aren’t many Thanksgiving Movies left over once you make a top 10 list of them. It’s also not difficult to make a top 10 list of Sole Survivors of Plane Crashes when there are only 13 of them.

I would argue that the scope of the subject matter doesn’t matter as long as the majority of the readers find the topic interesting (like in the two examples I used above). Yet hardcore top 10 list fans might feel that a list that doesn’t require the writer to make some hard choices misses the point.

5. Clutter the Internet

bunny-slippers

Critics might say that some lists are a waste of bandwidth because they serve little or no value. Readers who spend enough time with these lists (most will have left the list immediately) will all wonder the same thing: what was the writer thinking?

Perhaps the writer of The Top 10 Worst Shoes To Wear And Step In Dog Poop had an urgent message they felt they needed to share, or maybe it seemed funny at the time. However, most readers probably want their 5 minutes (and their appetites) back.

4. Unoriginal

sole-survivors-list

Some readers might argue that lists such as Top 10 Sidekicks or Top 10 Most Expensive Desserts have been done so many times you already know what will be on the list. The two lists mentioned are common topics and some of the list items might be the same, but at least the writing is original- and hopefully the images or video footage illustrating each point is different.

3. Controversy For It’s Own Sake

abortion

Some lists are so controversial that readers might question whether the list was written for no other reason than to start an argument. The Top 10 Arguments That Can’t Be Won list is so controversial that the arguments in the comments have been going on for two years. Last July (2010) Jim commented that it’s “getting close to two years on this thread now and people are still pretending there is not two sides to each debate… It is amazing how many here really think they have “proven” something or presented a valid argument instead of an amusing rant… This has been fun.”

2. False information

inaccurate-top-10

Sometimes readers will point out incorrect information in a list. Usually this is an innocent error on the writer’s (or editor’s) part. However, there are also lists out there on the Internet where the writer is intentionally spreading false information in order to sensationalize the topic.

1. Supports Stereotypes

stereotypes

I think the biggest reason to hate a top 10 list is when it supports stereotypes and doesn’t give any insight into new ideas. Sometimes the stereotyping isn’t blatant, but is implied throughout the whole list.

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12 Comments

  1. “This annoys the fastidious reader (the same readers who will leave a stern comment if your prone to making common spelling or grammatical errs).”

    Like those two?

  2. Great list. I wish the number 1 spot had more description (I haven’t noticed it much, so a few examples like you had in the others would’ve been nice).

    Also, isn’t arguing over whether or not all arguments have two sides an unendable argument in and of itself?

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