Category Archives: social media

Lists, How-To’s, Surveys — Whaddya know?

A few years ago I came across an article How to write compelling headlines. Five simple suggestions.

The article itself was – naturally – a compelling example. How-To’s and Five Steps To’s are most appealing to readers. After wasting a lot of time rummaging through such posts on blogs, social media and news, I’ve taken a little time to think.

Lists come across like cooking recipes, giving the impression that if you only follow through, you’ll achieve something close to the desired result, usually depicted in glossy, mouth-watering images. That’s what a good recipe has got to do for you. And since the process is familiar – even if only moderately successful – we quickly rely on the mental effort that others have expended on our behalf. The really nasty implication here is: if you don’t achieve the desired result, something must be wrong with you.

How to get something done is an even more subtle approach, implying success with the implicit idea that certain procedures can be automated. Yet, how-to’s are faulty and incomplete expressions. The full content would read: How you can get something done. Come to think of it – – rather presumptuous. To think that someone else would tell me what I can do…

No, that isn’t the true content of that faulty statement. It really should read: How I got things done. But such a phrase would invariably make the reader come to a logical conclusion: This is true for you, in your situation, under the circumstances you were in at the time. But I’m a different person in a different setting. A conclusion the writer would want to avoid by all cost, because it won’t get him large readership. People recommend and share what seems to be relevant for them.

Now people don’t write lists and how-to’s without some expertise. Lately, with the vast potential the Internet offers, more and more surveys and polls are taken. Naturally those must be valid for a majority, that’s how they are laid out to be. Exactly… have you ever taken part in a survey and the questions seem to give you rather narrow options of expressing our opinion? In a survey, queries streamline people’s opinions as to facilitate the evaluation of the whole darn thing. Data is the raw material for statistics, but the real work of art is the sense-making of it all, in the process of which reality inevitably gets warped.

Let’s say, lists, how-to’s and surveys are the best we can do in the way of making statements that are possibly valid for many folks. But let’s not cover up the fact that we’re talking about approximations that are far from fool-proof.


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