Mar
18
2010

What are the problems with "Top Ten" lists?

The top ten digits (photo by L. Marie - CC-BY)

Top Ten lists have become popular on the web, and also in magazines and newspapers. This popularity is undeserved for many reasons, the top ten of which are:

  1. A “top 10″ list trivializes the subject matter. The list is easy to write, but fails to provide a coherent coverage of the topic, or any background insight.
  2. Any listing of the “10 best” or “10 greatest” is completely arbitrary. It depends on nothing more than the whim of the writer.
  3. The rigid format doesn't cater for non-standard situations, such as when there is no item 7, or when there are two eights.
  4. The number of items in the list is wrong. The average ma

    le finds it difficult to cope with more than five items at a time, whereas the average female could easily cope with lists containing twelve or even more items.

  5. The topics of top ten lists are often chosen to attract attention, rather than for their inherent importance. For example: What are the ten best jokes about bankers?
  6. Sometimes there aren't even ten of something, for example it's impossible to list the ten largest continents, the top ten days of the week, the ten most humble politicians, or the ten best cabbage recipes.
  7. There is no item seven.
  8. Most of us have ten fingers, but top 10 lists discriminate against those born with extra fingers due to a genetic variation, and butchers who have accidentally chopped off one or more of theirs.
  9. The last few entries on the list are usually padded out by a writer …
  10. … who has a tight deadline and is desperate to get the list written and published.
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