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Does length really matter?

As someone who writes professionally the question "how long should this be?" is foremost in my mind almost every time I put my fingers to the keyboard.

With so many wonderful words at my disposal, I'm armed to the teeth and champing at the bit!

But, rather than use all the words I can think of, I work at reining myself in. Why? Because I want people to read it all.

I understand and accept that some people will scan or skim, while others will read not much more than the opening couple of lines, but I believe if I get it right, at least some portion of the audience will read every word.

To that end, I try to give as much weight to the final few words as I do to the opening line, and I do my best to keep the middle bit lean and meaningful.

Just as putting together some appropriate words in a coherent sequence is a skill, so is finding the happy medium between being too brief, potentially leaving out something fairly important in the process, and using too many words, giving the reader cause to glaze over and fade out.

Unfortunately, if you want to know "how much is enough?" I can't tell you!

There are so many factors at play in knowing where that sweet spot is for each particular piece, you're essentially trying to hit a moving target.

Your writing style is one obvious factor, as is the purpose of the content. The way you write about what your business actually does is likely to be quite different from how you outline your credentials or how you detail your refund and exchange policy.

People tend to use informal language when writing about themselves but lean toward a more formal tone when preparing a business-related document.

Even within the realm of marketing content, you might be building brand awareness with one piece of writing, looking to establish your expertise or authority in your field with another, and trying to boost social engagement with another.

Factor in subject matter and the number of permutations increases exponentially.

When writing for any audience the most important thing is getting your message across. That requires you to be as clear and concise as possible, which points to keeping it tight.

However while word count certainly plays some part in achieving (or failing to achieve) your objective, two pieces of writing of the same length on the same topic can have widely different degrees of clarity - and engagement.

Even a few paragraphs can seem like hard work for the reader if they are dense, overly verbose, poorly structured, or there's some other impediment to effortless comprehension.

Another thing to keep in mind is formatting. If the text on the screen looks too much like big blocks of words, some people will just give it a miss. It might be the most flowing, succinct passage, but if it looks like hard work, you've missed a trick.

So break up your paragraphs.

White space is breathing space for the reader's brain.

Images accompanying text also give the reader's brain a refreshing break.

In short, the look of a webpage is important if you aim to engage and hope people will read all of your carefully crafted words.

The rules are a bit different when it comes to blogging. People reading blogs have different expectations and behaviours to when they're reading information-based website pages - not least that they put on their reading hats before they dive in.

Analyses of successful blog lengths consistently find that some of the most engaging, most read, and most shared blog posts come in at around 2000 words.

Does that mean that anyone writing a blog should aim for that sort of word count?

Absolutely not. What sets those sorts of blog posts apart is the effort that has gone into creating them. Writers of good blog posts in the 2000-word range invariably base their content on extensive research, spend a lot of time figuring out a nicely balanced structure, include references, and ultimately produce such compelling content that the reader hardly notices the length.

The point is that readers remain fully engaged throughout their seven or eight minutes of focused attention.

However the vast majority of blog posts are like this one, coming in well under 1000 words and looking to capture and hold a reader's attention for only about three or four minutes.

So if you can get some strong points across in 500 to 800 words, I'd say you may very well have hit the mark.

Oh, and the answer to the question I posed in the title?

Yes, length does matter … but mainly if it's wrong … and there is no magic formula to get it right.

If your message is clear, your piece is the right length.

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