Do Short Posts Deliver on Value?

Do Short Posts Deliver on Value?

I write long.

It’s a bit of a fault of mine, actually. I feel that long posts are just … better, somehow. Fuller. Richer. More valuable. I feel that long posts give you all the goods, everything you need, all in one place.

Long posts are hard work, though. Delivering that much value and information in a single post without losing a reader’s attention is tough. And if a reader decides it’s too much work to get to the end…

Well. That’s no good, is it? Then nothing gets read. All that hard work goes to waste.

So each time I write blog posts, I’m mindful of my tendency to write long. Sometimes my first drafts extend well over 1,500 words. Then I trim and edit and cut and snip until they’re back down to something manageable.

Truth be told, that isn’t always fun.

In fact, some people have asked that I shorten posts down. That I deliver fast bites with impact, that I publish quick messages they can grasp in an instant. They want to hear what I have to say… they just don’t have the time to read it all.

This isn’t new. Other thought leaders write short. Chris Brogan publishes posts that are just a few paragraphs. Not always, but sometimes. Seth Godin has mastered the short post and his audience loves him for it. Julien’s posts get straight to the point.

And it works.

I’ve always thought that short posts were the cheap way out, honestly, which is why I suppose I developed the habit of writing long. I thought short posts were a cop-out. That somehow, they didn’t deliver value. That they lacked in substance or that the author couldn’t be bothered to write and just tossed it off.

But I’m beginning to think a little differently about short posts.

It would feel relieving to slam out a fast, impactful, thought-provoking message as it struck me than have to reserve hours out of my week to craft and hone those long posts into reader-worthy length. It would be better, too, because I have a lot to say, and I could say more of it if writing wasn’t such a time-consuming chore.

Don’t get me wrong. I like writing. And I like writing long.

But I’m no longer sure it’s necessary – at least, not for every post.

Would you prefer to read something that’s really good that doesn’t take forever to read? I know I do when I visit other blogs – we’re all busy, after all.

And is it necessary to write long posts to feel like we’ve delivered value? Premises and substantive material are good, but if you can’t say it short, it’s not worth saying at all.

And maybe – just maybe – short posts would be more fulfilling and more valuable. Imagine being able to change someone’s thinking, improve their business, impact their life or even change it forever in just a small handful of paragraphs and a single soundbyte.

Wouldn’t that be great?

Good question. Your thoughts?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. With all the RSS feeds people try to keep up with, it’s no wonder people are asking for shorter posts. I believe that if your blog post needs the length to get the message through, then yes, a long post shouldn’t be snipped down to pieces and not have the strength behind it.

    For posts that are longer, I have seen writers shorten them by doing sequential parts. I don’t know if this is the way you like to write, but it keeps each blog post short, while still maintaining its integrity.

    I do enjoy reading a Seth Godin length post, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy a good read.

    • I agree with you.

      Each blogger have their own style. There’s a diversity out there. I like the short posts of Seth and I also like James longer posts.

      I would say, James, do what you enjoy the most :)

  2. Two Words – Seth Godin!

  3. I’m actually a fan of longer posts. Seth’s posts drive me crazy. I’m JUST getting into a post when it’s over. I don’t think it matters how long the posts are as long as the post provides some value and makes a point that readers can take with them. It’s that idea of not becoming an annoying host (there is a such thing as trying to be too accommodating) but making the stay comfortable as long as your guests are there.

    • Ditto. I find short posts don’t give me enough for my thoughts to hook into – I’ve actually unsubscribed from Brogan’s blog because I’d rather have one or two long weekly posts than constant short ones.

      • That’s interesting, Ali – same here. I’ll watch Twitter for his tweets now and pick and choose. Also noticed that way back, I had a tendency to set priorities to blogs that I knew gave meaty posts.

  4. This struck a chord because my posts are pretty long-around 1300 to 1500 words and they take a long time to look good. I honestly don’t like writing long posts and am aiming at something around 500.

    But as you have mentioned writing pithy posts is an art that needs mastery- it’s essentially being able to get your message across in as few words as possible. Needs lots of polish but it will be well worth it.

    Thanks for taking this topic up

  5. I love Seth Godin’s short posts. For just a minute or two every morning, he hits me in the mind with something intelligent, thought-provoking, and insightful. It’s brilliant, and refreshing.

    But I also enjoy a long, thoughtful, ‘reasoning it out’ post, providing that it’s well written, intelligent, and not pleonastic.

    My take: suit the post to the message. If you can say everything that you need to say in a few sentences, do so, by all means. If you need 1,000 words or more, write them. Trim down if you have to, but don’t chop up your message because of some vague, arbitrary, imaginary word-limit.

    Short is good. Long is good. Say what you need to say in as many words as you need to say it.

    • Silverlight, I agree 100%. And I like post series too (Alex McManus excels at this– I still return to some of his series, and new comments are still appearing there 2 or 3 years after the OP). But you can usually tell if someone tried to stretch something over several posts that ought to have been tackled in one, or drawled on and on when it could have been 300 words tightly written. And frankly, it bothers me when certain people (whom I will not mention, because I wish them the best) fire off a “short, impactful post” that clearly needed more development, more words, in order to make sense…

      Write to the APPROPRIATE LENGTH for your concept! If you decide to be Seth Godin, then learn the provocative-popcorn-thought style and go with it… but don’t force too much into those tight clothes. And if you go long (hey, 850 words is not “long” btw– back in the days of print journalism, that was a standard column length, and I recommend it), then every word ought to count.

      So. No stuffing down, no puffing up. Write tight, but write right.

  6. Some posts call for length and others don’t. That’s all there is to it. I don’t believe in padding a post out just to give it length. If it’s a long post, then it needs to be worthy of taking up the extra space, and the extra minutes it takes me to read it. And conversely, a short post must have enough impact, worthy of the white space around it.

  7. It seems as if this paragraph…

    “And is it necessary to write long posts to feel like we’ve delivered value? Premises and substantive material are good, but if you can’t say it short, it’s not worth saying at all,”

    …answered your question as to what is the truth for you. As well as for me.

    Like you, I go long. And like you, I skip reading a lot of bad ass content like yours, telling myself I haven’t managed my time in a way that will allow me to stay productive on my own projects AND bask in your gloriousness.

    And I’ve deprived myself of reading blog posts even more the busier I’ve gotten. One thing that happens for me as an infopreneur who studies content from seminars/books for my business everyday, is that I end up getting the feeling sometimes that reading MORE content, is MORE work. Ugh.

    And yet, I still find myself reading Chris at least a couple of times during the week at least, rationalizing that if I go into his email, he’s gonna get me in and out of there quick, feeling like I’ve got my money’s worth, so to speak.

    Your question makes me think seriously about my audience who consist of entrepreneurs who feel so overwhelmed at the prospect of going through 10+ hour courses, that they usually shut down before even starting or start, never take notes on it or use what they watched or listened to, and then quietly and shamefully retire their box-of-goods to the shelf, never to be touched again.

    And then here I barge into their world with a post that takes up 10 pages of word document, god knows how many words that is, coming from a place in my mind where I want to give my audience content that would be worthy of printing out and binding, believing going long was the way to achieve this.

    Not so much, do I believe this now. Not when I put myself into the shoes of busy entrepreneur like you and I and all your other fans.

    But I think there is a happy medium between Seth and the Marathon post. Erika Napoletano at redheadwriting is great example of this. Not too long, not too short, just right. Naomi Dunford at ittybiz also seems to have a have this manageable length to her posts too.

    I’m with you James. And I thank you for being the teacher who appeared when I was ready. Something in me is going to fight this but that’s a part me being a wuss scared of change. I’ll put him in his place though—WUH-pusssh!

    Thanks SO much for the nudge!

  8. A mix of short and long work best, methinks.

    Sometimes, people are looking to be taken by the hand and walked through whatever issue is being discussed (ie, tutorials, story adventure, etc.).

    Other times, they want the answers yesterday that require no thinking, just other places to go or tactics to try or ideas to process.

    Perhaps have a tag on your posts (Post type: Epic or Post type: Wordbyte or Post type: Tutorial) is something to add at the top, so folks know what to expect. Hmmmm (thinking now to how to add that to my writings….)

    • That sounds like an excellent idea Barbara. I agree that a mix is good. Like how there’s no definitive answer on post frequency, post length will always be open to debate. Tagging posts like this could be a great solution so thank you. :)

  9. I do find many short posts to be just “lazy”. If you have to write DAILY, you’re gonna have it easier if you write short. I do agree some people have mastered the concise writing, but for many of us a longer article helps make a point better. I am not against short posts AT ALL, I do occasionally post something shorter, just because I don’t need 20 phrases to make that point. Other times, I need 2 pages to present my entire material for that article.

    So, I’d say it’s healthy to write as much as needed to get the point across and not settle for a short/long post just because others do it. We’re US and we’re writing in our own style. Sometimes our readers love our long posts, because they get all the info needed, in other cases they need 2 phrases to get an idea or the inspiration they came for.

  10. Of course, both short and long posts have their place.

    For me, I like short posts that are very self-contained and tell me the exact thing I want to know. The “what”. This is great when I have a specific problem that I need resolved as soon as possible.

    Long posts however are useful when trying to get under the skin of a problem. They let the reader discover what things to consider in order to arrive at a conclusion that may have been given in a short post. These posts are useful when I want to learn something, rather than just be told something.

    Which probably means that within each short post, there is a long post hiding behind the surface.

  11. I definitely prefer short posts.

    It’s interesting that you seem to equal short posts with slamming out a couple of thoughts in a hurry, without much editing.
    My experience is quite the other way round: in order to write a short, concise post that keeps readers’ attention from beginning to end, there’s a lot of editing work to be done.

    A quote came to my mind as I read your post: ‘I’m sorry this letter is so long, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one’ (attributed to Mark Twain and others).

    I associate long posts with not bothering to do the editing work needed to keep it pleasant for your readers. I’m not saying you’re doing that, but when I just slam out some writing, it turns out long-winded. When I work and polish at it, I’ve got a concise little gem that I’m proud of.

    Generally, I do find the Men with Pens blog very interesting, but I hardly ever end up reading through a complete post, because I find them too long. So I scan them very quickly, just jumping to the points that sound interesting to me.

    Thanks for bringing up this topic – it’s a good question.

    Mia

  12. To be honest, I’m not a fan of Seth’s posts. If I wanted to read something that short (regardless of it’s message), I’d flip through a book of famous quotes.

    Imagine if every blogger wrote short posts. The blogosphere wouldn’t be the diverse and awesome place it is. So I’d stick to the longer posts you’re good at and well known for. It’d be lame for bloggers like you who deliver A LOT of value to shorter up posts because a few people ask and because it’s apparently “what’s more effective online.”

  13. What’s better – a car or a plane?

    Depends on your destination of course.

    Dov

  14. Short answer: it depends. Sometimes an idea doesn’t need a long explanation. Sometimes the most important thing is to ask a Big Question. In that case, you don’t want to spoon-feed your readers; you want to make them think.

    Sometimes a number of options need to be presented, or a few arguments must be made. You can’t necessarily do that in 350 words.

    It’s not the length of a post that stops me. It’s whether or not the information applies to me, and if it’s well-written. A poorly written post takes longer to read than a good one with the same word count.

  15. I agree with the above comments about variety, however…and here it is. I am all about eficiency and that comes to words. You can usually say in 500 words what you can say in 1500!

  16. Short post are just as great as long post..if you are able to hit your points in a short post faster than an long one…then go for it..the results are the same if you as me.

    “TrafficColeman “Signing Off”

  17. When I open a post and see that it goes on and on, I either delete it or save it for later — and rarely get back to it. My own tend to be 500 words or less and I teach my coaching clients to write tight.

    Question: Was “soundbyte” a purposeful play on words or a typo?

    • It was neither – I used it deliberately, as it basically means “short chunk of something longer, a summary”:

      “In broadcast journalism, a sound bite is a short piece of actual sound from the event reported on. The term is also used for the section of video that accompanies the audio. In politics, the term is used for a contextless excerpt of a speech.”

      • …so it was an accidental play on words! I read it as the text equivalent of the audio or video version. Although since it’s all digital these days, I guess it’s all contained in “bytes” now.
        ;-)

  18. I think it is great to mix short posts with long posts. If you can convey something of value in a few words, then go for it. Short posts can be very powerful.

  19. I personally like relatively short posts, around say 500 words, sometimes a shorter and sometimes a longer one. The great thing about blogposts, for me, is that it does not have to be all said in one post (they just need current thoughts) and you can go on and on about a certain subject in following posts.

  20. In Stephen King’s book, On Writing, he says to write only what’s needed–nothing extra. Some of his stories are longer, some shorter. He says he cuts one-third of his first drafts.

    I’m a new blogger and tried to follow Chris Brogan’s 300-500 word length. I couldn’t do it.

    My posts average 1000 words–but before I push the publish button I make sure every word is needed.

    James, I think your posts are the perfect length. You wouldn’t have such a large audience if they didn’t match your reader’s needs.

    Plus, the HTML tricks about headings and bullet points are supposed to make longer posts more reader-friendly.

  21. As has been pointed out already, both short and long posts have their place. A long post rarely captures my attention all the way to the end–unless I really need that information.

  22. I find it incredibly ironic that this post has so many comments so early in the morning… and it’s short. Sounds like a silent message that short works best, eh? ;)

    • I think the high number of comments on this post is likely indicative that folks prefer shorter over longer.

      I’m definitely in the shorter camp on the general question of post length. Long posts work when there’s a lot of important information, like a how-to, or there are one or more relevant examples that illustrate an important point, but frequently long posts take far more words than necessary to say just a few things. Often the take-home message gets lost in all the verbiage.

  23. Do we want a snack, a light meal or a three course dinner? I guess it depends on our appetite and on the time we wish to spend nourishing ourselves.

    A successful blog has to feed a need. If it’s phenomenal, we can’t get enough of it. If it’s as tasteless and un-nutritious as most of this nation’s school lunches, it ends up in the bin.

    A great chef uses fresh ingredients and imaginative recipes. He lovingly presents his work with an artistry that appeals to all the senses…. and leaves us all hungry for more.

  24. I like short.

  25. Hi James,

    I guess I take the “middle bear” approach – long enough to tell a story, short enough to keep folks on the page. On-line posts tend to be too long, which encourages readers to just skip to the end. That’s what I tend to do. A lot of them also go off theme or contain way too many points. As an essay writer and teacher, I try (and encourage others) to pick a theme and stay close to it. Too many themes with a multitude of points crisscrossing all over the screen gets confusing.

    A good rule of thumb is to write something then wade back through it and take out 10-15% of it. I’ve been asked by editors to reduce 950 word essays to 750. You know what? The shorter version was a stronger, tighter piece.

    Glad someone wrote about this topic! Thx, Giulietta

  26. James, I like your posts because they flow and are easy to read regardless of word count. Consequently, I ‘digest’ them rather rapidly with ease. I think both short and long posts would be in order depending on the subject material. Whatever works for you because (as I see it) you have to write for you first and then tailor it for your audience.

  27. I think the length of this post was just right. Your use of 1-sentence paragraphs helps, btw. Makes it flow–and has a lot of impact.

    What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I tend to run a bit long at times and think I need to work on that. Breaking up the content with subheads and photos helps, but still–some readers could click away if overwhelmed at first glance. I’ve been thinking that when a post starts to go beyond 1000 words, I should consider a two-parter. And why not write some short posts of just a couple hundred words sometimes? I think that might be good because readers will see that you vary what you’re doing and that it’s not always long.

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your just-right length post and got some great ideas from it (and the comments). Thank you!

    • I personally love, love, love impact statements and use them as frequently as I can (within reason). There’s nothing like delivering the perfect punch.

  28. I think longer posts are needed in some cases. One thing I enjoy about reading your posts, its I actually have ‘take the time’ to read them and go through the comments. I know other people are not looking for that, just something short, quick, and to the point, but I enjoy a little bit of length!

  29. I write long too. It’s not a deliberate choice, it just comes out that way. But I have been experimenting with shorter posts for the very reasons that you give. If I’ve got a lot of information to get across, I’ll usually break it down into a series otherwise I end up with blog posts that look like e-books!

  30. I LOVE short posts. I’ve been known to bang out 1000-1500 word articles, but then I cut ‘em down to 500 or so, and make a series out of them. I’m guilty of having a short attention span when reading others’ blog posts, and I know that my readers are the same. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Anything longer would be… too civilized.

  31. Short posts have value only if the author puts it there. Same for long posts.

    An author can be brief and pointless or long winded and equally pointless.

    I’d say my posts run from 250 words to 800 words. The average being closer to 400 or 500 words.

    If I reach 800 words I ask myself can the post be splint into two? If yes, then I do that and make it a two part series. If no, then I leave it as it is.

    I put a lot of importance into the post title for writing and for reading. I follow too many blogs to do otherwise. If the headline says read me I will open it in my Google reader and in about two paragraphs I’ll know if I should keep reading or not.

    In that way I think it’s important to structure posts like a newspaper. It’s the Top-Down method or inverted pyramid. The most important information should be on top and descend in level of importance. I should be able to stop at any point and not feel I’ve missed something.

  32. HI James,

    On the one hand, I’d say that the subject matter should dictate the length. But on the other, readers’ preferences matter too. I think people come to Men with Pens to read, so longer is not necessarily a bad thing.

    By extrapolation then, perhaps new blog writers should tend to write shorter, to give new readers a “taste” of their writing. Then they can adapt (i.e. lengthen posts) as the readership grows — as warranted.

    As an aside, one of the blogs I regularly visit has absolutely no text at all: the aptly-named “Minimal Exhibit”. http://minimalexhibit.com/

    ~Graham

    • Good lord – you’re still alive! That’s awesome, dude!

      You mention our audience is kind of primed for long posts and know they’ll read – I agree that’s true. (We train ‘em up right around here!) But I have to wonder… what kind of results would we get if we mixed it up a bit and broke the rules?

      • Ha, yes, still alive… =

        I think your readers would read pretty much any length you write. But for the rest of us mere mortals, it might be worth experimenting with length…

        ~Graham

  33. Posts are like Abe Lincoln’s legs: as long as they have to be to reach the ground.

  34. James….love this topic man. The best analogy I can think of, considering the holiday season is upon us, the the classic beverage/dessert Egg Nog.

    Now here is the thing about Egg Nog. It’s rich. Super Rich. Freaking awesome Rich.

    Heck, Egg Nog is so rich it leaves the consumer with 2 choices:

    1. Drink a lot and get really sick by the end. (Anyone ever had an Egg Nog overdose? Wow, that sucks really bad)
    2. Drink a little and be left wanting some more….

    Hope you see my point here. I think in terms of blogging and content, for the majority of the people out there, less is more.

    I could literally take a small sip of egg nog every day for the next 60 days and enjoy every drop. But could I drink 12 ounces every day for the next 60? Ain’t no stinking way. I’d be toast by week 2…..

    Well enough of my silly analogy. Love the topic man, it’s one I think we all struggle with.

  35. Like you, I tend to write long (and revise) and read short. Too many times blog posts are like sermons; they could have said what they said in half as many words, but fellt it necessary to stretch it out to fill a time slot or word count. On the other hand, it drives me crazy when someone hits on a really good topic but hits only the high points without offering any way to delve deeper if I want.

    It seems to me a good writer will be able to tell when a topic is sufficiently covered without being inflated. This post, by the way, was perfect!

  36. I think this debate misses the point. Blog length is not an issue in itself, but should reflect the importance of the topic. It is a bit like reading, if the content is profound and poetic read slowly and fully. If you a feeding a few facts get it over in a mouthful. Different writing styles and great writers can be pithy or to the point. The problem is that blogging is more like conversation than measured writing. In either case try not to be boring.

  37. Here’s another point that could be tossed around somewhat:

    I’ve heard people mention that those who write short are arrogant to assume that their ideas are so valuable that short is all they have to write. I have to admit I’ve read a few of those blogs and the arrogance outshines the value of the thought.

    On the other hand, no one likes a writer who gets drunk on his own words, eh?

  38. I enjoy your posts and don’t find them too long. A post should be a long as it needs to be. And not longer. So some great posts will be short and some longish.

    As for me, I’m with Blaise Pascal, who wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time…” I find writing short copy harder–and more time consuming–than writing long.

  39. Oh, I struggle with this. Too wordy, too many links to other wordy posts. When I edit mercilessly, the jokes and fun seem to disappear, too.

    Part of what I love about Twitter is the forced brevity, it keeps me in line.

    In the end, I just hope that I’m cultivating the readership who appreciates my style. That’ll have to be enough for me.

  40. Michael Ramm says:

    Write what you want to write. It is sad that so many favor short posts because (IMHO) it is just lazy not to read a longer post JUST BECAUSE OF ITS LENGTH. If you have a lot to say about a topic, then write a long post. If you have a quick hitter, then drop a shorter post.

    Blogging is supposed to be writing like YOU want to do. I am growing weary of so many bloggers trying to conform to some formula so that they can get readers.

    Write good content and readers will come, no matter how long the post it.

    • I’ve every the whole post and all the comments thus far. Your comment by far has the most impact in point to me.

      I am somewhat new to blogging. I blog mostly for myself about my move and stay to Belgrade, Serbia. This involves everything from cultural differences, politics, to daily life. For me, my posts are normally on the “long” side of things. I have tried to shorten them, but I always feel like I cut out needed details.

      I finally just asked my readers what they wanted. They preferred the longer posts over the shorter ones. So in the end, I prefer long, my readers prefer long, and that’s all that is important to me.

      I don’t see the point in conforming to a specific set style or format of blogging. I do enough of that with university. Writing is supposed to be a representation of the writer and his/her thoughts. Conforming destroys that ability.

  41. Nice post, James – thanks for raising this. I’m with you. I’m a purist. I love to write long. And I’m a perfectionist. I still wrestle with getting a post *just right* before I publish it. And it takes time. A lot of time. I suppose that makes me a bit arrogant too, but hopefully that doesn’t come out in my writing. I’m trying to teach myself to write short – while keeping the true essence of what I want to say. It’s a process of distillation that I’m yet to master. But I’m working on it!

  42. I think short posts can pack a punch, but long posts seem to deliver more sustainability. They are passed around more often and bookmarked more often. Of course they also take a lot more work.

    However, sometimes I have a quick thought or question that I want to share, in which case a short post is all that I need.

  43. I guess I’m just a silly goose — I’ve never actually CHECKED how many words are in a post in my blog. (I suppose WP has some way to do this by now, huh?) So I copied/pasted a few out into Word, and I was amazed to see that most of mine that people seem to like are right around 500 words, give or take.

    And one that I think of as really long is 765 words. Pretty amazing. I have to admit that I don’t do a lot of “cutting” when I write blog posts — they get composed in my head over the course of several days, and then just come blurting out in a rush. After a quick read-through they get posted — you’ll usually see some funny little typos and missing words — and I rarely do much in the way of cutting.

    Blogging (again, just for me) is more like a quick phone call with a friend that like work that I’m turning in for a client that will be used for thousands of users or posted on a commercial site. So I don’t really spend a lot of time on it.

    And in terms of length — nearly everyone I work with tells me that I write very, very sparsely. (From some people that’s considered a huge criticism, and from some people a huge compliment.) When I’m working on a project for money I don’t do a lot of writing until near the end — I spend LOTS of time defining objectives, identifying the voice, the needs of the audience, the boundaries of what we’re doing, etc. I think that writing one single word that wasn’t necessary is a huge waste of time.

    (My hero is Norm Abram of the New Yankee Workshop. He’s a Master Carpenter, and each week he builds a new complex piece of furniture. You see him plan out how to use each piece of wood with the least amount of waste, and everything fits together just so.)

    As a writer, I aim to only write what’s needed to achieve my goal. I’m not saying I always achieve that — sometimes there are some words lying on the floor of my workshop when I’m done — but I’m always in awe of those who can elegantly achieve the most with the least .

  44. This is an interesting questions and I’d like to know in your opinion after the comment dust settles.

    I enjoy both styles when the articles are well written and the subject matter interests me. Short can be provocative and stimulates my thought process by quickly providing an alternative perspective or point of view. Long gives the author a chance to explore a subject in more detail and depth. So it seems I’m in the “it depends” camp.

  45. Here’s my two cents:

    Short posts can offer extreme value in an easy to read format. The problem is too many writers think that busting out a few paragraphs is still valuable. Its not if you don’t spend adequate time editing, proofing, and planning your posts. Just because its small doesn’t mean it needs less time. I think the shorter the post the more work needs to go into it. Its very difficult to say exactly what you mean in less words.

    My second point is that long posts can offer a complete picture of what needs to be said. If you are an inspirational writer than write short. Say what you mean to say and shut up. If you are writing to teach and train the reader then write with the necessary details to create real learning.

    Every post requires different lengths based on the purpose. Write to the purpose always and you’ll find readers and writers will come together the form beautiful work.

  46. Psst. James. Didn’t you just do some posting about 168 Hours? Tell those people who say they’re too busy to read your stuff to go get the book!

    Having written for radio the last few years, I’ve become naturally concise with my writing. (In radio, you always have to worry about the length.) But I occasionally miss the flow of a beautifully crafted article, and you (and several of your guest posters) have a very smooth writing style that I enjoy reading.

    So I guess I’m going to repeat what others have said – Write it to be as long as you need it to be. Fluff is fluff, after all. And if it means that it’s a longer post, then that’s fine with me, because I know it’s going to be enjoyable and it’s worth the extra minute or two to linger.

  47. Fun to read all the responses on this!

    I write short & read long. Short posts are fun, sometimes, but I bookmark ones that have a lot of substance and I keep referring back to, particularly “how-to” posts that are really meaty, practical and have examples. I’m very tired of “how-to” posts that are so surface they just regurgitate what is out there already.

    I’m hoping my own posts will get “meatier” as I have more to say myself.

  48. I love the longer posts. I like getting the extra info to read and I find that some of the shorter posts leave me wanting more.

    I find that on my rss feeds, ill actually open the window of the ones that are longer, if they’re short i can skim it and move on…

    Then again, I also tend to write long. :)

  49. James,

    Personally, I like to mix it up…although after writing for 3 years over at The Mogul Mom, writing long posts drains the life force out of me. LOL.

    I recently watched an interview with Tim Ferriss on The Rise To The Top http://bit.ly/dDtOSP and Tim talked about how he tries to write “evergreen” blog posts, posts that he hopes have MORE value years after he’s hit PUBLISH. His blog post style tends towards epic and yet, he has one of the top blogs in the world – proof that long CAN work.

    I think bloggers should write posts that they feel deliver real value to their readers, whether they’re short, long or somewhere in between. :D

    Heather

  50. This debate on the long and the short of it reminds me that many years ago I used to attend a national Tourist board meeting . As ever with tax payers money at stake the associated papers were lengthy; four inches or higher in their own folder. The Chairman,a stickler, loved to goad members. “The member from Abingdon seems not to have read the paper on hotel bedroom furnishings and star classifications” he chided.
    The member from Abingdon rose, clutching a slim paperback book. With great oratory flourish he began. “With your permission Mr Chairman, may I ask a question? Fellow board members can I ask how many of you have read this.” None responded. “This slender volume is Hemingway’s Old Man of The Sea -one of the greatest novels of the twenty century that none of you have read. Yet you expect me to have read something twice as long about the size of mirrors, electric kettles and notices about the fire hazard of trouser presses. I beseech you fellow directors, can we keep brief what we must read, in order that we have time to read what we should read, for the betterment of hotels, our humanity and getting home before midnight.”

  51. Random subscriber comment…

    Did this site get over 33,000 subscribers because of any kind of focus on post length or was it because of value? For me, doesn’t seem like a hard question to answer.

    Short posts pander to short attention spans. Not enough time to read long posts? Try cleaning out your feed reader. Why don’t we lower another standard so more people can have a trophy? No sense in expecting people actually DO more these days. So long as we’re all blogging and commenting on doing more, we’ll be fine.

    If it’s important, you make the time to read it. Dudes are setting out a grand buffet. Asking for frozen pizza slices because we don’t want to wait for the prime rib is really counter-intuitive and smacks of sloth.

    IMHO.

    • Prime rib is pretty damned good, I have to admit.

    • Preach it, Brian! ;-)

      • :)

        I’m not saying short posts don’t have their place, or even looking to spare anyone (myself included) the labor involved in trimming unruly posts, but there’s just something about this idea that rubs me the wrong way.

        “I have no interest in your theory, insight, or understanding – how or why – and I’m not particularly interested in you, personally. Just give me stereo instructions so I can effectively ape your success.”

        The most valuable blogs are those which foster learning. Those looking to be better writers no doubt appreciate substantive posts, as they seek greater understanding of the power of words. Here is a blog offering rich conversations and free mentorship on topic about which we are deeply passionate.

        Short posts pander to consumers looking to make money.

  52. At my first editing job, the publisher would always chide me for my seeming inability to deliver an article under 1200 words. She would always slightly mangle the Twain quote as an explanation for her view on the value of a short, punchy piece, “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

    As a closet over-writer, I agree with her (secretly). After all, my main literary love is poetry, an art of arranging few words and achieving great heights. So I now make it a point to try and say what I need to say in under 750 words, at least on my blog.

    I find it takes me twice as long and the end result is at least four times as clear.

  53. most of the time, i prefer to read short posts. but, you write well and despite my online ADT, i read every word you write.

  54. Yes

  55. I guess it would depend on your style and what message you are trying to convey as to which form to use. I use both because in some cases I can say it in a few paragraphs. There are others times I feel like I am writing a dissertation for my PhD. It depends on how much and what level of information I am trying to pass on to others. I guess it depends on who I think the audience is or is intended to be.
    If it is interesting enough I will read a long one. But if I loose interest half way through then I read 1/2.

  56. There’s definitely a joke in there about telling people length doesn’t matter, but I’ll leave that for someone else. :)

    Most of my posts are about 250-350 words and I find that works well for me. Short enough that I’m not overawed with writing a blog post, but long enough that I can get some quality in there (I hope).

    Having said that, it’s the longer posts that draw me to MWP. But I also know not to drop by when I only have a couple of minutes: instead I’ll pop in when things are calmer and I can spend a decent chunk of time taking things in.

    In the end it’s an entirely personal decision. If you get your mojo writing 1,000 word pieces, go for it. If a 100 word entry is more your style, that’s just as valid.

    I’d much rather have variety than uniformity in the blogs I read.

  57. JuliaGrif says:

    I’m with Nic above – Write tight, but write right.

    The length of your posts works for me. Part of that is that I know what to expect when I see you in my InBox. Your style fits you, I know generally what to expect, and your posts are consistently useful to me.

    Don’t change a thing, Boopsie!

  58. This is a terrific topic that touched on an area I have been thinking about lately. My blog posts tend to tell stories and tend to start as 800 word essays. Since I have read and understand that many busy readers want more bite-sized content, I have been working on shortening my stories through aggressive editing with limited success. I have found that sometimes a story needs to be told in long form for the sake of the story itself. To provide the reader with at least some smaller posts, I have experimented with different, non- story entries, like Top Three Widgets or Worst Thing-A-Majigs, which has helped me stay closer to 500 words and given me a new approach to writing.

  59. Write tight, but write right. My favorite quote of the day.

  60. I think it is what is appropriate for the moment and the subject. There is an audience for both moods as the replies prove. Personally I don’t have time for long posts – even when they are interesting there are too many good blogs to give one post hours of time. It would have to be quite special to get the print off and read later treatment.

  61. You are forgetting the cardinal rule of writing. Write for the reader. I, for one, hate long blog posts. Find another forum where the length is applicable – magazines, for instance. I have too much to read all day (and I’m a fulltime writer) to spend time waiting for a writer to find a way to make his point. If I can see where the point could have been made sooner, I often move on, sometimes removing the blog from my feed. You like long posts – readers like short posts. Are you writing for you or for them?

    • Oops, actually, I’ll have to disagree with you there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my years of writing and working with other writers, it’s that you need to write for yourself FIRST. If you write for your readers, you’re externalizing validation, which can lead to a ton of problems, you’re playing to other people’s rules, which squashes your creativity and boxes you in, and you’re not writing for self-pleasure, which means you’ll never be able to sustain it, long term.

      These three are *huge* reasons to write for yourself first – you take pleasure in your task, you enjoy the work, you can explore boundaries and push the, you can expand creativity easily and you never burn out.

      So yeah. I’ve *never* written for readers first… and the blog does pretty well, I’d say! ;)

      That said, the old saying “do what works for you” comes into play here, so if you find that writing for your readers and not for yourself works best for you, then go for it!

      • James,

        I’m so glad to hear you articulate the mantra of writing for yourself first. I was alarmed and surprised by Jon Morrow’s recent Copyblogger post which advocated choosing a blog topic that people are interested in and convincing yourself to write about it vs. writing a blog on what interests you. I know Jon said in the comments that optimally it would be a topic that interests both parties, but that the former is better if you had to choose because you can deliver more happiness.

        To whom? I’m with Rick Nelson on this one. “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

        That said, I’m glad you brought up the topic of blog post length, but am wondering if you aren’t falling prey to the will of the crowd yourself.

        Why force yourself to choose between long and short posts? Long posts got you this far, so if that’s what’s working for you, go with it.

        If a topic occurs to you that prompts a short post, then that’s okay too.

        You don’t need to be defined by the length of your posts. Define yourself by the thoughts you share and the words you use.

        • “You don’t need to be defined by the length of your posts. Define yourself by the thoughts you share and the words you use.”

          Yes. Well said. Evelyn’s is going to be my quote for the day: Define yourself by the thoughts you share and the words you use.

          (Although I can’t deny what all these commenters are pointing out: that we define EACH OTHER, at least in one way, by the length of our posts… is this the right time for that joke, Neil?) ;-)

  62. My take is that a mix is good… but also that frequency of posting has a lot to do with it. I love Seth’s short style because it comes every day. If he was writing daily 1500 word essays, I’d quickly get overwhelmed and unsubscribe.

    On the other hand, I publish a post once a week so I aim to make it a well thought out, detailed and helpful one… not just a funky riff on my latest idea.

    I think theres room for both though. It’d be a sad blogosphere if everyone wrote to the same wordcount.

  63. It’s not black and white, writing for readers or writing for yourself first. You have to enjoy producing the work and be in love with the subject matter to come across as passionate. However, you have to be cognizant of the desires of the readers or it’s a one-way communication – the opposite end of the spectrum you described. I write with the desires of my readers in mind first and foremost, then I take into account whether I enjoy writing about the subject. I’ve been- blogging for a couple years, but writing online editorials of 400-500 words for 11 years with FundsforWriters.com . I’d done well with 35K readers. Guess it takes all kinds. But personally, I won’t read a 1,500-word blog unless the writing is phenomenal and enjoyable enough to justify pulling me away from my responsibilities. Just do not have the time.

  64. It’s the venue, I think. I can curl of with a good, long book. But I don’t want to sit for hours at my computer, unable to underline or take notes.

    IMO, short to medium posts are best on blogs. If you really have a ton to say, break it down in sections and give me a multi-part. I’ll be back if I like the first one.

  65. I think we all have our own ways to manage info overload– all the blogs we subscribe to, our jobs, etc. etc. I agree with varying the length of your posts per subject matter, angle, and your own goals for publishing. I read a post recently where the writer analyized several blogs for post length and correlated them to traffic. At that point I tried to make myself blog daily and stay within a certain limit. But now I know that blogging shouldn’t be so rudimentary or scientific. Like Michael Ramm mentioned above, you don’t have to stick to a strict formula.

    I am always surprised at how many FB/Twitter/blog comments I get from my longest posts (over 1K wds). It’s almost always because of my heartfelt stories and points that keep people reading and they don’t notice (or notice but don’t mind) the length because they’re engrossed.

  66. Hi James,

    Nice post; evidently this is something people feel strongly about :o)

    Like you, I write long. I suspect this is because I come from a scientific background that necessitates considering all the angles: I’m used to talking around the idea, because reality is complex and interconnected. That said, sometimes ideas are not so complex, and I guess my posts on those are shorter. But mostly, I’m looking to connect what I’m saying with other things that have been said before, and that uses up more words.

    I never object to reading a lot post, provided the reason for its length isn’t a lack of judicious editing. Sure, I don’t always have time for the longer posts, but that stuff tends to get bookmarked and read later (not always, but mostly).

    I am a huge fan of Seth Godin, and very much admire his short posts, which never fail to make me think. I think Seth has pretty much mastered the short form, but what I think he has that many authors of short posts don’t is the ability to think of, and frame, ideas in a whole new way. I never come away from his micro-posts feeling short-changed, whereas this is a fairly common experience when I read other people’s short blog entries (“Yes, AND? This is half a story!”) I suspect it’s tempting to think that if one has written a short post, it must therefore be pithy – but this is far from certain.

    Someone once asked me if I would consider writing shorter posts on my blog. I did give it serious thought, but it just wasn’t me – and I completely agree with your point upthread about writing for you; I’ve read my Merlin Mann on that one :) I know some people like to serialise long posts into one-part-per-day (I guess it effectively quadruples your page hits per complete post), but when there’s so much information out there just waiting to be read, I’m not sure it’s ever guaranteed that someone will come back tomorrow for the next instalment. Also, I can’t help thinking serialisation makes discussion awkward, because people will comment, after reading part 1, “What about X?” – and then you have to point out that you’re coming to X, if they can just wait until part 3 …

    My feeling as a writer is, I’ll stop when I’m done (and, okay, when I’ve edited out the flabby bits). That would be now :)

    - Chris

  67. I think of my posts as phone calls from a friend; short, sweet and fun (hopefully). I keep mine around 300 words – for now. Its just to get me in the writing mode but people seem to like this length just fine. I myself have a bias to anything under 500 words or less. It makes for a perfect read. :)

  68. I’m a long posts lover. I like to read all your posts…. and feel bad if it is over immediately. I need to wait for over 4 days to read another one :). It all depends on ones tastes and ones liking: I love to read a lot and love to be entertained with a good dose of nice, well crafted thoughts. That is available in plenty here at MwPs.

    I also like to write long posts with one view: I need to give the reader some good well-rounded view of my experience and idea.

    Frankly, I was exhausted reading on the comments …

  69. Ahhh… excellent point! Readers are important, but writing to the readers is as bad as writing for a news service…it will stiffle your creativity.

  70. I read Chris Brogan regularly because he writes about and say things that matter to me. I appreciate Seth Godin’s writing because he gets to the point–fast, and with no detours. But I like context and short posts don’t provide it. So while I admire Seth’s ability to punch out a great paragraph that makes his point, I don’t always know what he’s talking/writing about–I don’t connect with it.

    I appreciate your concern for readers. Thank you for caring enough to add context and write about things that matter to me. I’ll keep reading as long as you do.

  71. I think there are pros and cons to both sides here. Short posts are great for making that first impression but long posts make sure that people are glued to what you have to say. In marketing, they would say to keep things short and simple as brevity means delivering your message without the fuss. There are also folks who hate reading a lot of yada’s and want to get to the ending without having to read all that suspense and climax. I guess, you have to experiment and see what will work for you best.

  72. I think about shorter posts so the reader can get through faster, but then I never was a Cliff’s Notes kind of girl.
    I put a lot of time into each post, and take pride in it.That’s my style. If I come upon a subject that I can get out quickly, I’ll do it. But if a piece is written well, long or short, the reader should be pulled in and not looking at his/her watch, right?
    The other point is the purpose of the blog. Every blogger has, or is finding, their unique niche with an audience to match.This determines the style of post you ultimately write.
    I wouldn’t worry about your work James. You’ve already arrived and readers continue to want more, so keep your style. It works.

  73. Hi James,
    My own posts seem to be around 500 words which suit me. I personally love reading longer posts because you can really take and develop an idea. It’s not so bad cutting down from a longer piece either because it makes my writing sharper.
    Keep doing what you do because you’re obviously doing it right!

  74. Long on short isn’t really the issue. What is important is the quality of the writing. Long posts can hold the reader’s attention – provided they are well written and interesting.

  75. James, I love to read what it takes for the author to tell me what they have in mind – short, long, medium.
    I LOVE how you write – maybe I should tell you more often – but I don’t like a post that is short for the sake of “the world is busy – oh my god, hurry and finish it before the reader runs off to the next thing!” – It’s a great marketing strategy if you are selling but please, tell the story in exactly how many words it takes. If you write that 1500 page fantastic post and go back to edit it to some 1000 word “ideal length” you have in mind, I guarantee you that your original message gets lost and then it will dilute the value of that post a lot more than the lost value of the readers who may not stick around for the original post – and for the record, this was a pretty short post! :)

  76. While I tend to write long because of having to fill a daily paper in a small town, I love succinct information. Especially online, I much rather read multiple short posts than very lengthy ones. I think there are a few reasons for this.

    Short blog posts have the tendency to be specific. I much rather get the useful information I need to take the next step instead of making my way through a 1,000 word post waiting for the good stuff.

    Reading multiple shorter posts gives me a sense of accomplishment, kind of like finishing short chapters quickly in a book. I feel like I’m getting somewhere when I intake information.

    And yeah, I’m tired of having nearly 200 items to read in my Google Reader. Short posts get that number down to something that doesn’t intimidate me from trying to read more.

  77. I too get caught up with the story and some of my readers love it but I have many who don’t. They want the photos or the thoughts in a digestible bite. It is the skilled writer who can do this…that said the story teller in me sometimes wins out.

  78. The story is told of Mark Twain.

    Someone came to him and asked him to give a 15-minute talk next Thursday.

    “Impossible”, he said.

    “If you want a one-hour talk next Thursday, no problem; but if you want a 15-minute talk, I’ll need at least three weeks to prepare”.

  79. James…something I wrestle with too. Recently stumbled across the work of Bill Schley and his book promoting the effective use of micro-scripts. Not that your posts should be that short, but making your point initially as a micro-script, then expanding on it further in your post might statisfy all readers.
    Check out Bill’s blog as he is much better than I at explaining…and in fewer words. LOL
    http://www.billschley.com/blog/

  80. I’d say, as others have, that it doesn’t make sense to have a hard and fast rule here. It’s impossible to do justice to certain topics without a book (in my view), and others are way, way too long for even 1,000 words.

    The cool thing about blogging and the web is that you can decide what’s right for you and your readers!

  81. It’s been a while, since you wrote that and you’ve already made a decision.
    But I would like to add my 2 cents as well.

    “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter” it’s a very famous and beautiful quote by French Blaise Pascal. Above all, it’s absolutely right. Writing something short but at the same time very good requires A LOT of work. Even more than writing the same concept in a longer way.

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