Saturday, January 28, 2017

How many items should be on a list of tips, or top tips?

Suppose that you were writing a speech, or web article, or blog post about tips on a subject. How many tips should there be: three, four, five, seven, ten, or twenty? Based on two recent Google searches I did the most popular answer is five.

Back in 2009 I blogged about how Almost nobody wants to see your Top 15 list: please use either a Top 10 or Top 20 list. For that post I did a Google phrase search to see how popular the phrase “top M” was. Popularity was defined as the logarithm of the number of results, N, so a popularity of 3 means about 1,000 results, a  4 is about 10,000 results, 5 is about 100,000 results, a 6 is about 1,000,000 results, a 7 is about 10,000,000 results, and so on.

Yesterday I repeated that search for the phrase “M tips” and found the results shown above. (Click on the graph to get a larger, clearer view). 5 was the most popular number with about 28,800,000 results followed by 10 with about 26,800,000 results. 3, 4, 6, and 7 were quite a bit lower, and numbers above 10 were way down.

Today I searched for the phrase “top M tips” and found much lower numbers (as shown above), but 5 was still at the top with about 2,090,000 results, followed by 3 with 673,000 results, and 10 with 648,000 results. Then 7 had 629,000 results, 4 had 494,000 results, and 6 had 347,000 results. So 5 again was the most popular number and not the Top Ten one might naively have expected. 

In 2011 I blogged about Speech geometry: links, circles, forks, and combs. For tips the devil is in the details, so think about a pitchfork rather than a comb.

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