Are You Too Lazy to Write Less?

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How long should an article or a blog post be?

How about a landing page?

The answer is, of course: “As long as necessary. And no longer.

Obvious, right?

Most writers know that brevity is crucial. In writing, like many things in life, “less is more.”

But in writing and in Texas BBQ, we tend to over-indulge. We don’t need the extra words any more than we need those surplus calories, delicious though they are.

Why does brevity matter?

In your content marketing, you might want to inform or you might want to entertain.

If your audience is mentally screaming “Get to the point!” you’ve done neither.

And no one will share your work if they don’t understand it, or if it bores them into a coma.

For sales copy, brevity is even more important. Yes, long copy sells. But “long” means you cover all of the important facts your prospect needs to know. It does not mean you indulge your desire to natter.

If you have ever silently waited, cash in hand, while a windbag salesperson droned on, you will recognize the issue here.

It actually takes more work to write a short post. You may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing.

But you owe it to your readers to cut the fat from your content.

Bottom line: If you want your words to have impact, get to the point — then get out of the way!

About the author

Chris Garrett


Chris Garrett is Chief Digital Officer at Copyblogger Media. He helps run Copyblogger’s educational programs like Authority, where he develops guides and tutorials to support Copyblogger customers in growing their businesses. Connect with Chris on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Well… it can never be too long, it can only be too boring… it just true… getting to the point is what everyone wants but without the beginning is also hard to understand the point… the best bet is write everything that is relevant.

    • I think you make a great point. Content should be as long as it needs to be to make your point and make it stick. But you don’t want to circle around your message paragraph after paragraph without making any progress. Figure out what you want to say and say it!

  2. Content that is concise and to the point can have greater impact than long drawn out content any day. Think Seth Godin… :)
    Thanks for practicing what you preach in this post, too!

  3. @The Bad Blogger – If it *looks* too long, nobody will bother to find out :)

    @Kiesha – Seth Godin is a master at this, yup

  4. That’s the first time I’ve clicked the ‘read more’ button in expectation of less. You didn’t disappoint. ;-)

  5. @Mark – “Read Less” probably wouldn’t work normally but so would work here ;)

  6. This reminds me of a favorite quote by Pascal: “I apologize for the length of this letter, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”

    Concise writing does take more time and effort, but it is the hallmark of economical, purposeful, and effective communication. We often shorten clients’ documents, without losing content, by 20% or more.

  7. I love that quote David! A good editor can improve your content significantly providing you don’t have to stick to some random word count criteria :)

  8. I like that this post was short and to the point. I tend to think longs sales copy gives your potential clients more reasons not to choose your business/service.

  9. Hey Chris,

    This is awesome. Short & Sweet!

    Have a great day!
    Josh

  10. I tend to think longs sales copy gives your potential clients more reasons not to choose your business/service.

    Of course, that’s not true. Even Amazon uses long copy when selling computers, flat-screen TVs, or other expensive items.

    Now bloated long copy … that’s a different story. That gives people plenty of reason just to stop reading and go elsewhere.

    • Brian,

      Your Synthesis sales letter before going to “Plans and Pricing” is about 1700 words. It’s a beautiful design and tells me everything I need to know. At minimum this is a $324/yr product.

      This sales letter http://www.marlonsanders.com/secrets/ is touted as being one of the best sales letters Frank Kern has read in years is 12,000 words. The maximum the customer will spend is $97. And, apparently this letter does really well.

      I just don’t understand it. If someone has to write 12k words to sell me a $97 product I just can’t trust them. Why do these types of letters still work?

      Oh, and I’m a huge Amazon prime user and the only copy I look at on that site is the customer reviews and of course price.

  11. I think a lot of people get caught up in thinking a blog post has to be a certain number of words and then they write to that word count. They should be writing to the content and worry about the word count later.

  12. Long copy, and blog posts, bore me. I have to keep this in mind when I’m writing. It does take a lot more editing time, but when it’s right, damn it’s a good thing.

  13. I write some long posts, but they are highly detailed. I write them, proofread them, type them into the computer and edit at least 3 more times. Cutting, chopping and making it sound natural is the key.

    It’s about how many words it takes to state my point.

  14. I can appreciate this info as I try not to bore my readers! Thanks,
    Clara.

  15. It was about time that someone of your reach said this Chris – thank you!

    I’m so done with long sales letters that I scroll to the end for the price, and get hooked up by that instead of the benefits of the product.

    Long sales letter? Meh!

    Long, rambly post? Time is short – meh!

    Emails that go on about the writer’s recent activities that the reader has no interest in – meh too!

    But if an article has great writing, is entertaining and has something important to say – for example many of Ed Dale’s blog posts – then I’m in. And if an article gives lots of useful information, in a deceptively easy-to-grasp way – for example posts by Brent Hodgson – then I’m in.

    It’s time we celebrated the art of pulling the reader into our writing. And leaving them wanting more.

  16. Isha, it is indeed time to celebrate brevity. But let’s not forget these celebrations from bygone years:

    :)

  17. Before I cue my blog posts to publish I try to cut every paragraph in half. I don’t always succeed but when I do, I am amazed at how little meaning is lost in the process.

    I would love to send this post anonymously to worst offenders, but I suppose the unsubscribe button saves me the time I need to edit my own work further.

  18. One of the best things I learned in college: “Warm up on your own time.” Never forgotten that lesson. Less IS more, so cut to the chase, make your point, and finish already. FWIW.

  19. Yes, there is a fine line between long copy and talking like you just can’t leave a family picnic.

    You need to pen your sales letters in such a way that the info-nerds will get their fill by reviewing each and every inch of your product before purchase, but you also have to adress the bulleted type-A people that want it now in about 2 sentences.

    This is where the magic of copywriting comes into play. You need to deliver to as many of your prospects as possible, without wasting a single word, yet making sure that you didn’t leave out a single reason why they might not buy as well.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  20. This reminds me of a great quote Bob Bly uses in his seminal work on copywriting: He quotes an old cigarette commercial, “It’s not how long you make it; it’s how you make it long.”

    This is a guide I try to focus on when I’m writing. I think it foots to Chris’ point as well–do the hard work so your reader doesn’t have to.

  21. My most recent post on my blog ‘Tick Tock Timer’ is what I consider a post that champions brevity. As a result, it took me a while to write.

    You say, “You may find you spend twice as much time editing as you do writing. ”

    It’s not just the editing that takes longer for short posts. I think it requires more critical thinking to get your idea in written form with fewer words. And some bloggers tend to ramble even if it’s well written ramble.

    Longer posts don’t take as long because the author doesn’t take the necessary time to crystallize their post into something shorter.

    “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter. ~Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).”

  22. Chris, your post reminds me of the quote “I would have written less, but I didn’t have the time.” Think about it, though in your case you probably don’t have to!

  23. Dan S. Kennedy said it best with the most brevity.

    “Aggressively Edit”
    -and-
    “ReWrite for Passion! Edit for Clarity!”

    I tweet at ProNetworkBuild

    Lonny Dunn Editor/Author

  24. guilty as charged your honor…

  25. I absoloutely agree with Chris here.

    I find short posts on blogs more entertaining, more informative and more interesting.

    I lol’d pretty hard when I read this:

    Bottom line: If you want your words to have impact, get to the point — then get out of the way!

    Life is pretty fast nowadays, people like short posts which get to the point quicker!

    I agree that writing short posts are more harder than writing long posts.

    It takes some talent to write short, to-the-point articles/posts!

  26. Paul S Lukas :

    In this era of very short attention spans, your advice of aiming to cut the message in half is a good one. Wouldn’t it be better leaving them wanting more than having their buffers overfilled?

  27. As a slowly improving yet still “novice” blogger, I struggle with this very question. Thanks for the info and the indirect encouragement.

  28. Ahh word economy, I love that. Eyes glazing over is no way to read anything so I wish windbags would do us all a favour and put down their work, come back to it a day later, and read it themselves. I offer a twitter bio service where I will write a client’s twitter bio – all precious 160 characters of it. What I can fit into 160 characters is word economy at its finest. Great article, a man after my own (copywriter’s) heart :).

  29. Precisely. :-)

  30. This is totally analogous to screenwriting. The best final screenplays were 2-5 times longer in their previous iterations. And that old rule about catching the viewer’s attention in the first 10 minutes, that maps to the first few sentences in a post, sales email, etc.

    Capture attention quick and keep it brief. Words to write by.

  31. Great Post. No one has a lot of time to sift through all the extra bits. Just give us lean meat!

  32. I’m using the fabulous SCRIBE for SEO (www.scribeseo.com). When it analyses and scores your posts (red, amber or green with %ages), your score is lower if your word count is less than 400. I discovered that just the other day when I was considering popping a ‘shortie’ up on my site…..

  33. @Jill – As always, you have to walk that fine line between writing for search engines and writing for humans. Under 400 words isn’t really enough for Google get a firm grasp on what you’ve got, but it’s more than enough to get your point across to a human reader.

    This post made me laugh with all the flashbacks I got to my school days.

    ME: “How long does this paper have to be?”

    EVERY TEACHER EVER: “As long as it takes.”

    My 15 year old self can’t stand that his teachers turned out to be right.

  34. Love this post and comments–especially the tip on scribeseo.com and reference to “I would have written less, but I didn’t have the time!” I’m going to use excerpts as fuel the next time a marketing director asks me why I’ve written so little copy with so few adjectives.

  35. Shorter is better. :)

  36. Write shorter? Yes, I agree. Blog readers are very short on time and they really don’t have time to read a blog post that is very long. They want their information fast and they want it now.

    That’s what happened to a blog that I subscribed to. The blogger writes great stuffs but I find his posts too long and will give up halfway through it. In the end, I unsubscribed from his blog.

  37. Yes! You are so right – make the point, and then . . . stop. Nothing worse than listening to someone beating a subject to death. A concise presentation makes much more impact!

  38. You know what, In a long sales letter i don’t think I have actually ever read the whole thing. But the parts i do read gets me to take action

  39. Long copy; short copy – copy to please:
    We tweet and buzz;
    like birds and the bees:
    To write quite right;
    can take all night!

  40. Great post, Chris. I agree. Sometimes less can be more. For instance, you provided useful information with a 243 word article. Your article is both concise and informative.

  41. “Are You Too Lazy to Write Less?”
    .
    Not always.

  42. Brevity poker:

    I’ll see your “Not always” and raise you to “Sometimes.”

  43. I keep trying the “less is more” strategy. It’s muuuuuuch harder than one would think! thanks for the inspiration.

  44. I don’t write “sales copy” so I can’t speak to that but I do know that in publishing blog posts, I cannot believe how much time I spend editing!

    Recently, I went back to polish a post and spent an hour-and-a-half editing and adding links. I even deleted a whole paragraph!

    Which makes me think that, more often than not, I should probably let a post sit for a few days (at least) before editing and publishing. Keep in mind I only post once a week and I endeavor to have several weeks posts ready because with my lifestyle, stuff can come along that could very quickly set me back with regular posting if I don’t keep ahead (very ahead!)

    I personally also think that being active on Twitter has helped me with brevity. It can be a real challenge sometimes to get a thought across in 140 characters. Good training for “real writing” I think.

  45. I agree with Anne. There is nothing like Twitter to urge you to get to the point. While I still find pitches, proposals and sales letters tricky, practice and the “less is more” attitude are making me better.
    Thanks for reminding us, Chris. I can’t even begin to count how many times I wanted to say “cut to the chase” to a lot of offers surrounding offers…

  46. Loved this part:
    “And no one will share your work if they don’t understand it, or if it bores them into a coma.”

  47. Read this the other day:

    If your next great business idea will not fit on the back of a business card? Shorten it.

    I Tweet at ProNetworkBuild

    Lonny Dunn Editor/Author

    ooops, sorry, PS: Talk about not being able to come back and edit, these comments once posted, are pretty much uneditable. ~ I agree with “getting to the point’ in my own stuff, I notice that if I just get to the Tips, and brush off the Lead In or Set Up, I get many more ReTweets, and is more popular. PPL indeed just want you to get to the point, they want all the golden nuggets and don’t want to pan or mine for it, they just want them handed to them. Sorry I was not brief.

    Have a great summer!

  48. Cutting to the chase is a great phrase to describe blogging brevity. Your readers are there to get an answer or entertainment. Don’t make your readers work to hard. If they see you page with no pictures, 25 paragraphs and long, drawn out sentences, they will jump shift so fast it will leave your head spinning. Not to mention increase your bounce rate.

    Remember loyal readers know the value of your posts, so keep giving them what they want.

  49. Yep. When a writer’s written something he knows the work has only just started.
    When a non-writer’s written something he says “Thank God for that” and opens a beer.

  50. Thanks for the reminder, Chris.

    It comes at a great time, but I’m sure that’s not a coincidence. After all some of us wrestle with 250 words… Not sure if you’ve heard, but it’s for this awesome contest ;)

  51. Me like ;-)

  52. One thing that has worked for me is: Write the first draft as you would/want to, and then leave it aside for a day or two. Go back and take out all the words that don’t belong there. Try it, you’ll be surprised at the results :)

  53. Don’t be a copynatter! ;)
    Love your writing, Chris.

  54. Does anyone else think that its a good idea to take a longer post and break it into two?

    I did this recently on my blog, and came up with a pair of tight, concise posts.

    • Yes I have had some success breaking epic-long posts into series. It’s also a great way to get people to return (pro-tip: Cliffhanger call to actions after the end of each piece!)

  55. True.

    Earlier today, I was guilty of adding bloated copy to reach a 400-minimum word length article.

    It felt like I was repeating what I already said. The shorter version felt better.

    Thanks.

  56. I prefer to write pieces that are between 400 and 750 words. From my blog metrics, readers are very fond of them as well. Interestingly, my most popular posts are longer. But then so are some of my least read posts.

    My take-away? Keep most posts as close to 500 words. If what I want to say takes longer, I ask “can I make it into a series of shorter posts?”

    After I’ve established authority on a topic with a reader, I have earned myself some indulgence and interest in a longer piece. I push publish after I can truly say that this is something my audience wants or needs to hear, not necessarily what I want or need to say.

    Copyblogger, Seth Godin, and a handful of others always get a look over my morning coffee. You all can write long or short. Matters not. But that’s after 2 years of delivering solid, usable content. On that know->like->trust-> continuum, you all fall somewhere to the right of trust.

    I’m currently rereading the my.copyblogger ebooks. They are a bit more than 500 word count each.

    • If you look at my own blog you will see a lot of my articles go very long. It’s not so much the length in terms of word-count, more are you getting the point across without losing the reader’s interest.

      Heck, I am a big fan of telephone directory sized fantasy novels ;)

  57. Talk about getting to the point, effectively. I never thought copyblogger, or any blog with guest posts, would accept an article this short. Excellent.

  58. I am writing two to four post daily on different blogs, either as a freelance or for own blog. It is quite difficult to go with brevity all the time. I spend more than two hours to write even 600 words article, try to focus on exact point, but don’t know when I will be able to submit my first post on CopyBlogger.

    Thank you very much, your post is small but have millions of words to say, Just like M.F Hussain’s painting.

  59. Simply brilliant!

  60. Great post, Chris! This is definitely a skill that doesn’t come easy. It takes dedication and lots of practice! It’s great to get a reminder every now and again, though, because long-winded articles are too easy to publish.

  61. The bottom line said it all! Just don’t ramble and be on point. You can squeeze 300 words to 2000 by adding stories after stories but most of your readers will leave after few lines.

  62. We’ve yet to to have a 3 minute trailer outperform a 70 second trailer.

    That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but…

  63. What was it that George Orwell said?

    “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

    I couldn’t agree more. If you look at a lot of famous American writers (Steinbeck/Hemingway come to mind), they copy is direct, to-the-point, and leaves you feeling impacted (for the better or worse). I think that this is equally applicable to the world of content marketing. Keep it direct and almost blatant!

  64. Trimming the fat leaves only meaty value Chris. Power message!

    Ryan

  65. Great post, Chris! :)

    I understand your point, too! I think in many cases, short posts are even more important than longer posts because they are quick actions to certain subjects. I would write a short post as if I wanted to quickly tell someone how to do something in person. Tell them what to do without beating around the bush and move on.

  66. This was too short…could you expand on it ;o)?!

  67. All my posts are always not less than 1000 words. For the niche project I write more than 2000 words for each post or page. I think that big post don’t boring visitors mind if its are informative.

    Anyway, all viral content must be short, but…A lot of Internet visitors not only young people. Many of internet users try to find some specific information in necessary niche, and, trust me, they’ll study more than 100 google’s results to find information they need…

    So, I’m old school guy, and I’ll always write big post.

    Not every project must be as Huffington Post…

  68. “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” – Winston Churchill

  69. Very well demonstrated : )

  70. I always try to write short but with tutorials using photos and videos. I love writing tutorials :)