Brevity is Best for Blogs

No Wrangling Weed

can choke you,

from your Nest.

Turn you face from the sun

small woodland flower

Brevity is Best

Quickly coming to fruition

And fade away

Ellen Wilson

*************

Sometimes I like to write long involved posts.  I like to make a point, teach, or entertain.  Sometimes all three.  I get lots of ideas and want to craft the best post possible.  I can easily spend hours putting together photo and posting ideas and sometimes let it get away from me.  I become absorbed in what I’m doing. 

But should we be writing these long and involved posts?  Who are we writing for?  I’m selfish.  I write to please myself first – as a mama must love her baby before it can love itself.  And if other people can take something from it that’s a good thing. 

Seth Godin who wants us to click on his head, writes brief, yet involved posts that usually pack some sort of marketing punch.  And as much as writers and artists think that snakey sneaky techniques are for those debased marketing people, let me remind you that most writers and artists who ever got very popular did some serious rah rah on their own behalf:

  • Hemmingway did it.  He even wrote his own copy.

  • Salvador Dali became the living embodiment of surrealism.

But back to the brevity.  Which is related to marketing. 

What I Have Learned from Online Writing

People like to digest information in 400 to 600 word chunks.  If they see an article or post much longer than this they shrink from the sheer volume of words.  They either skim for information or start surfing.  Why stay in one place?  Unless your one of my loyal readers you don’t really care.  You have no investment in me.  And you can’t take me into the bathroom when nature calls.

Paragraphs should be short.  I know we were all taught the paragraph formula:  topic sentence, body, and conclusive sentive.  Just like a small essay.  Doesn’t work with online writing.  Paragraphs must be short, composed of a few sentences people can easily skim.

What I have just mentioned is the way online magazines operate.  They recognize that the way online information is purveyed will directly affect peoples’ buying decisions. 

Do you think these techniques are valid?  Do you even care?  How might this affect your readership? 

Photocredit:  © Ellen Wilson

 

 

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32 thoughts on “Brevity is Best for Blogs”

  1. Big long paragraphs turn me off immediately — can’t read them — just a big blob of uuuh.

    As for long posts, I try so hard to make posts short and to the point, but I just go on and on and on and on… I have so many thoughts on everything. I always have to edit and then I get frustrated at myself for wasting so much time.

    Anyway, my long posts have all done better than my short posts, so I don’t worry too much about it. The longer posts tend to be topics about which others have a lot to say too.

    Jaden @ Screenwriting for Hollywood’s last blog post..When Science Fiction Becomes Reality

  2. I am not a good one to comment, most of my posts are between 600 and 1200 words. I would actually prefer to write shorter ones, they just don’t work out that way.

    And a lot of the time that I go to really short ones, it just seems that the writer didn’t put in the effort or didn’t really have anything to say. Then I think, then don’t bother to post, don’t waste my time. Other writers can get in a slam dunk in 100 words.

    It all depends.

  3. Ellen,

    Oh, my. I have to agree with Jaden here (big shock, I know). Brevity may be best for some… for me?

    I try to do a mix of short-medium-long weekly (there’s a method to my madness), but whew, the short ones are torture. I have been fortunate that my long posts have mainly done well (there have been some heartbreaking silences, though).

    In my reading, I tend to digest the posts of writers I know will only do quickies first, and save longer posts for later on. However, when I think of all the posts that were print-and-keepers, or stumblers, or remember-forever-ers, they’ve been the long reads. Okay, except Seth’s.

    Just as when I read a magazine, I may enjoy the short bits in the front of the mag, but what I bought it for, and what I’m most likely to remember in a month, is a full article somewhere in the back.

    I think the Internet has a lot of traditional readers like me (thank goodness), who are still looking for meaty posts. It’s definitely true that the new breed of reader is looking for brevity, but are they getting anything out of it?

    Hmm.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tip of the Week: Do More

  4. @Jaden – That’s what I try to accomplish with blog posts. To the point. It’s too hard for readers to slow down and think of everything. If it’s not possible, I use all of my powers of verbal aptitude to get my point across. Sometimes it’s also a matter of content. What I write in one post can probably be broken into two or three.

    @Wendi – It does all depend. It depends on how succinctly you get your point across. We can all learn from writer’s who do this well. I have never been one to write too much verbiage unless it’s a novel, but even my novels are not full of excess that doesn’t relate to the story. I am trying to master different forms of the written word. I really do think there is a trick to writing good blog content.

    @Kelly – I didn’t know you were in the habit of disagreeing with Jaden. That’s okay, you can disagree with me too, if you want. I like people to people to voice how they feel. You raise an interesting point. What do readers look for? Is it all about content? Or is it about how the content is portrayed? I really don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit of both. I do know if it’s a long post it better be pretty damn good to keep my attention. But that’s my bias. And I do think readers need little paragraphs in order to keep their interest.

  5. Sometimes I can’t get all my ideas down in only 500 words. Especially if I’m writing a story.

    So I just say to hell with it. I write as long as it takes…and let the chips fall where they may.

    If what I wrote is good, people will read it. Otherwise,…no big deal. It’s not like I’m losing money or anything. All that matters is that I got my ideas down into words. At least it’s out there.

    Personally, I dont’ like the way we’re starting to learn to read in short little sound-bytes. Our children will lose the skill of being able to read for more than 2 consecutive minutes.

    Sometimes opinion pieces, technical articles (or just good old plain literature) needs to be presented over several thousand words. That kind of writing needs to be savored and digested.

    Friar’s last blog post..Discussing Popular Culture with a Nine-Year-Old

  6. Jaden (and Ellen),

    Sorry! I didn’t mean shock at agreeing with you, I meant *fake* shock at me liking long copy! I think there was more sentence there and I edited it… see why I should stick with long?

    Ellen,

    It had better be darned good. I agree with that. 🙂

    Until later,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Tip of the Week: Do More

  7. I mirror Friar.

    I too am not getting paid for my copy so I write what I’m moved to write. Sometimes it’s one sentence, sometimes it’s very long. I have no clue what the word counts are: I never look. I simply say what I want to say, and I have found so far that if people in general like what I write, they’ll read, whether short or long. I understand this thing about shortened attention spans (depressing) and the ideas behind needing brief sentences and paragraphs, but I think if anything grabs your attention and interests you enough, you’ll stick with it. (I’ve seen kids focus on one thing for very long periods of time.) It depends on content, readers’ moods, how well it’s written…there are lots of variables. In general, the feedback I get is that people like the long posts on my blog. Tei’s blog also contains mostly long posts and people seem quite happy there!

    Steph’s last blog post..Thank You for Reading

  8. @Friar – I agree. But I think that we read words on the Internet differently than we do print pieces. The Internet absorbs us and wants us to flip from thing to thing to thing. Our brains are being rewired to accept this change in informatin absorbtion.

    @Kelly – I won’t read toooo long unless I make a special appointment. Then I have to come back to it. But who knows? Something else might have grabbed my attention. And I’m a pretty fair person.

    @Steph – I wish everyone would write this way. Unfortunately, the Internet is made up of things beyond good writing. That’s one of the reasons I will go to your blog and savor a story once a week. And I won’t skim it. It takes time and concentration. I can’t give this to everyone. And I know everyone doesn’t give me this thorough going over, either. It’s a choice. With so many things competing for our time, absorbtion must become a choice.

    @Everyone – Thanks for all of your thoughts on what you read and what you write. Good stuff.

    @Kelly – Don’t worry too much about writing long posts that are great and you didn’t get a good response – maybe people didn’t have time to respond that day. I know you write consistently almost everyday. I find it hard to keep up with bloggers who post daily.

  9. Ellen, I would even separate blogging into a sub-category of web writing. Blog posts ideally don’t tell the story but leave something out to encourage discussion. A web article on the other hand can be more in depth depending on the category and audience. I read online business articles that are 2-3 pages or more and often print and keep because they are informative. I typically do not however slog through a long post. Part of the issue with blog posts is that our audience (at least the commenting audience) is us. With 200 posts in my reader and a desire to support the brethren, I can’t read everything with the same focused attention. If however, you post less frequently and cover a topic of interest in depth, that too is a little different. Great post Ellen and awesome discussion. I am trying to opt for even shorter posts. I often feel undone too but always cut something out to keep it short (er).

  10. Hi Ellen,

    With most people who surf the net (blog readers included), having ADD, I do try to keep my posts short. Sometimes I write and write, and they edit a lot of it out. It’s tough.

    When I first started blogging I used full paragraphs, etc, and then I realized readers do like the snippets, so some of my “paragraphs” have become one line. I shake my head at how different online (blog) writing is, but I want to please my audience, so I give them what I THINK they want.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..NBOTW Author Says “Life Is A Jungle”

  11. I can take you to the potty. I have an iphone.

    (Ok, that was TMI, I know.)

    I know I am long-winded. Folks tell me to shut up all the time. Brevity is SO not my strong suit, which is probably why I’ve never taken copywriting to a career level and why I have to hire an editor for most things I do.

    My ADD is such that I can’t care long enough to trim down my own ramblings while at the same time I don’t care to sit through someone else’s… unless, like you said, I’m emotionally invested, or I can take the person to the potty. Hehe.

    Good post.

    Was my comment officially longer than the post? Let’s see…

    Amy’s last blog post..My Role Model, the Ostrich

  12. @Karen – I have been trying to do a little research into how I think people consume and relate to online media. If you are doing research I think people will spend more time on the material, but if it is more of a social event, I think people will skim and scan. Thanks for your insights, and your last post was excellent by the way. You hit the nail on the head. Stick on the stumble button so I can stumble it for you. I need to do that more for my blogging friends.

    @Friar – That was too brief. No one wants to hear “good post.” You must give me an in depth analysis as to why it’s a good post.

    @Barbara – I think the Net gives us ADD! We are wired to surf because it’s so easy and we think, gratifying. I miss getting totally absorbed in something. Although I do like blogging, it’s not the same as writing for print. In some ways it’s harder. There are a lot of variables to consider.

    @Vered – I think the meat of the blog is in the discussions. I like to find out what people are thinking. Most bloggers like insightful comments. They don’t want to hear “great post,” because it sounds like they just want to get a link in. I don’t mind short insightful comments, or long ones for that matter, but I realize that a lot of people have many blogs to visit and mine is just one of them.

    @Amy – Ha! I forgot about your iphone! I cracked up when I read that. I feel very honored you can take me to the potty. That’s a big emotional investment. Like a good book. hehe

    Emotional investment is why we come back to the same blogs or comment at all. This has been a good learning experience for me. And if I’m not learning I’m bored.

  13. I think the deciding factor between long or short posts must be your audience. Marketing and ad copy should always be short and direct. The goal there is to get someone to buy.

    With many of our blogs, the goal is a little different. It may be to get people to subscribe, or comment, or simply enjoy the post. Also, when you blog about writing (for writers), your audience is a little different. Most likely, they are heavy readers and won’t mind longer posts.

    After audience, I would say quality is crucial. As much as the Internet likes short posts, they don’t do us any good if they come across as unfinished or half-baked.

    So – I say audience and quality are more important than length. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Lewd, Loud, and Proud: Dudes Who Slam Poetry

  14. @Melissa – I do think quality outweighs quantity. As far as my audience? I don’t know, if they like it that’s good, but if they don’t? I tried. I probably won’t always hit the mark. Who knows what people want to hear on any given day? I understand the difference between selling copy and writing for other writers, but I do think people have shorter attention spans on the Internet.

    @Friar – Thanks. Anytime.

  15. @ Ellen, I learned a lot from the comments, this was such a helpful post!

    @Friar, I saw a study about the declining attention span of the younger generation and it was due to multimedia (computer, video games, etc). We are programming kids to not focus. Heck,these days we’re afraid to even let kids be bored.

    Well, the commenters here are all in my reader and I do follow and enjoy. It is hard to keep up even though you want to comment on every post. One reason I love my shareaholic, I can one click and show love by bookmarking so others can enjoy. 🙂 However, I have tried to support blogs that have long, analytical posts and honestly sometimes my brain is so fried I can’t get through it. I do better with in depth pieces in print.

  16. @Karen – I think Friar if fried. I gave him a mustard seed on his blog.

    I haven’t heard of shareaholic. I’ll have to check it out. I know it’s hard to keep up, that’s why I would rather follow conversations rather than posts. You can learn a lot from the commentary.

    I’ve heard of those studies citing shorter attention spans, too. In some ways it is touted as another form of intelligence in that it isn’t all bad, just different. That I can understand, but shouldn’t kids be learning to focus, too? You can’t just play game skip through life. Yeah, and that irritates me too, about parents worrying when their kids get “bored.” Give me a break. Kids should learn how to entertain themselves! It’s a great skill to learn. Life isn’t one big entertainment fest! You create all kinds of problems in kids if you think you have to constantly entertain them.

  17. @Sandra – Thanks! You are the first person to notice these little flowers. I forgot what they were, and was going to have to look them up in the field guide, since I haven’t catalogued this photo yet. I still have to look up the scientific name.

    @Friar – You are like the little flower that pops up and then fades away.

    Tweety is an alien, you know. Hey, why don’t you make a cartoon of a bird with a big fat body, and a little tiny head.

  18. Plaintain is good because it’s fryable. Is that even a word? It is now.

    I have been writing recipes today so it has to be edible.

    Alright, I will go check out your post, it sounds interesting.

  19. Hi, Ellen. I’ve seen you on Blogging Without A Blog and I thought I’d pay you a visit.

    Everyone will have their own opinion, but I definitely prefer longer posts. My last post was 2,000 words and I don’t think it was too long at all (and it’s getting lots of stumbles). I do think it’s good to provide visual anchors though: bold font, italics, links, images, bullet points. I like posts to be physically easy to read, though mentally stimulating.

    While I do like Seth Godin, he’s unusual. I think he and Barbara Swafford are the only “short post” bloggers I read regularly. It takes talent to write short posts with value, just like it takes talent to write long posts that are worthy of the reader’s attention. I enjoy Steve Pavlina’s posts which are typically thousands of words long, and when I come across a new blog and see a very short post, I think “That’s it? What a waste of a click!” I sometimes think posts are way too long, but only because the author is rambling, not because of the word count per se.

    When I write a long post, I try to wait some time before posting again, so I don’t overwhelm my readers. My preference is for bloggers to write long posts with a low posting frequency. Everyone will have their own preference, so I think it’s a good idea to be consistent so people know what to expect from you, and you’ll attract readers who like your style. People who like very short posts won’t like me, but I think that’s OK.

    Hunter Nuttall’s last blog post..The Introverts Strike Back

  20. Hi Hunter,

    Mentally stimulating is the key for longer or shorter posts. I suppose it depends on the individual and what they are capable of creating. Some people seem to be able to do this at regular intervals (usually shorter posts) with a stimulating impact.

    I think it is a good way to break up your words for an Internet audience, as you mention: bullet points, bolding headings, images, etc.

    I’m generally getting the consensus that people write posts for different reasons: audience, what they like to write, etc. There has been no real consistent consensus as to what people expect from a blog format.

    I try to write the best posts I can at longer intervals because I like to think about what I’m going to say for awhile before I write. I like to let it ferment.

    I also like to learn from what people say in the comment section.

    Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

  21. Brevity is the best but not necessarily because the readers have a short attention span – which they do. I think it allows the readers to really sink into the words.

    It resonates in your head. And gives you space to think.

    I came over from BWOAB- I have a loud child. I’m thinking I should listen more.

    Dr.Cason’s last blog post..There’s Bubble Gum on My Foot

  22. Dr Cason,

    Hopefully the words resonate with readers and not skim off the surface, which I think is happening with the Internet. If we have social networks we visit I don’t think we pay as much attention to eachother because of ease of familiarity and all that that brings with it. I wouldn’t say it breeds contempt, but it’s kind of like when you spouse gets a haircut and you don’t notice. It’s like a picture on the wall you see everyday. Pretty soon you don’t see it anymore.

    Children come in all different types of personality types, and some times they don’t jibe with the parents’ personality types. Then there can be friction. I suppose it’s just a matter of seeing things from the kid’s point of view. I have always thought that each kid needs something different from you, you can’t just “blanket” parent, because what works with one kid will not work with another necessarily.

    I always used to step in bubble gum barefooted when I was a kid and it drove me nuts (referring to your post(.

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