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Excuse me, but How Long Are You Going to Blather on For?

When was the last time you read a full article, whether it was online or in print; something in your CNN or Fox News feed, a blog post or some celebrity puff piece?

Actually, scratch that last one. I think people who read celebrity puff pieces usually read the whole things.

As for the rest of it though, let’s be honest here. I’m not talking about skimming through to the bottom. I’m talking about actually reading each word. Or at least each sentence.

Yeah. I figured it’d been a while.

That is a criticism, but it’s not just of you. I can’t remember the last time I read a full article either. Other than my own, I mean. Not when bloggers and news writers blather on for paragraph after paragraph after paragraph about their subject matter.

I don’t have time for that. Or so my line of thinking typically goes.

Politics. Religion. Commentary (which most of the news seems to be these days anyway). Whatever the topic, I’m bored or distracted within paragraphs. And I’m sure the same applies to you.

I’ve wondered many times about whether this phenomenon is a product of nature or nurture. Is it our limited human brain capacity at work, or a societal issue brought on by a constant demand for instant gratification, which leads to constant demand for something new, which leads to very short attention spans?

As Nervana once put it, “Here we are now. Entertain us!”

One way or the other, writers today need to expect that their readers have very short attention spans. Which is why we writers need to watch out for our word count if we want to keep those readers.

There’s no place for sanctimonious or long-winded blathering. Keep it short, sweet and to the point!

I’d say to try to limit yourself to 1,000 words or less for news articles, corporate updates and blog posts – especially blog posts – but even 1,000 words starts to feel pretty lengthy pretty quickly.

Then again, you want to convey your message correctly. And that does take up space. So here are some basic rules to follow:

  • Know your industry guidelines. Different readers do expect different words counts. For example, if you’re a blog reader, you’re probably expecting something between 400 words and 800 words. Whereas if you’re a Yahoo News reader, you probably expect to read only the first sentence before scrolling down to the comments section and leaving something pointless. Don’t worry. I’ve been there too.

  • If your writing is going to run on the longer side, rely on white space. In other words, break up the monotony of your longer copy with varying paragraph lengths, bullet points and other such visual distractions to “entertain” your readers’ eyes.

  • Always put your most valuable information toward the beginning. Did you ever learn about that old newspaper funnel? The one that tells you to start out with the “good stuff” and then work your way down to the less interesting – or, if you’re writing with an agenda, less useful – information? Well, it’s still true. Readers are going to notice the top stuff first, with an increasingly smaller chance of reading each new layer of content. So whatever you really, really, really want them to know needs to go up top.

If you got this far in this blog post, congratulations! You got through a little less than 600 words, which makes you an absolute trooper.



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