Friday, February 25

Writing Tight: Simple Never Meant Short

post lengthYou can find the same advice all over the Web. Many people suggest the best posts are about 200-300 words. Some even set the max amount at 600 words. But no worries on the final count; they say keep it short. Short and sweet, even.


Ghazal Alvi says it will save time. Bob Anderson says you can turn one post into three. Chris Brogan says brevity rules. Kevin Kane says nobody reads anything else. Scott Williams says he learned it from Seth Godin. Jim Estill says shorter is better. Steinar Knustsen says short. Rob Birgfeld says keep it short, stupid. James Chartrand says it works.


That's 100 words and I'm already tired. But if I write 100 more, perhaps I'll hit some magic number and make my point. Blog posts should be short. The shorter the better (but more than 100 words). Never mind that other thing. You know the one.

All of them are wrong.

Writing short is lazy writing. Writing tight, on the other hand, takes discipline. It also assumes you have something to say, at least something worth more than ten minutes of writing before spamming everyone in your social networks.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not advocating for long posts either. The right length of any blog post is precisely the length it needs to be. Not a sentence more or less. For example, this post now includes 250 words. And it's still not right.

How did short writing come into fashion anyway?

The same way all "short" rules come into existence. Boorish writing.

Boorish writing is why corporate videos are limited to three to five minutes (make that two minutes), news releases are confined to one page (skip it, just pitch it). And ad copy turned into some cheeky image of a skinny chick holding up a product. When writing starts to fail, we just want it to be over.

Case in point. Go back for a minute and reread any of those posts that claim short is better. Could you stand any of them if they were even one sentence longer? Probably not. I could even make the case that some of those take too damn long to make the wrong point.

boredThe trick is to toss the entire question of length out the window. A good book makes you lament when it's over and long for another. A good movie can make you wonder where three hours went even without an intermission. A solid post or article might make you think of so many new ideas that you can't fathom what to add with merely a comment.

And even this post, at around 600 words, might stick a bit more than those who stuck you with their short post arguments. But even if it did not, that's all right. I'm unconvinced that this paragraph is the right ending. It might be more worthwhile to leave you something new to think about.

Don't think about short. Think about tight.

Writing tight is the art of readability. It changes little annoyances like "he stated" to "he said" or "it is our company's practice to" to "we try to" or it "must be returned to this office" to "please return." For posts, especially, it's about chopping unnecessaries down to how people speak: "at the present time" (now), "due to the fact that" (because), and "are of the opinion" (believe).

Words are tools, you know. Their job is to convey thoughts, not obscure meanings. Collections of words work the same way.

The real secret to solid writing is never to confuse simplicity with condescension. Your goals ought never be to save yourself time, improve your back links, or double down on the frequency of your posts. All those tips do is make the post about you.

hmmmIt's not about you. All words are a direct conversation with your reader. If you care about them, then it is in their best interest that you invest as much time as it takes to make a point, make it clearly, make it concisely, and make it in such a way that they might stick with them longer than those popular and equally forgettable quick-serve social snacks.

And then what? Well, once you accomplish that ... you stop, without any worry that you broke 800 words several sentences ago.
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