Why You Should Write Short Articles, Too

Image of Vintage Measuring Tape

After writing the first draft of a new Copyblogger post last week, I noticed something interesting.

I wrote the conclusion, then looked at the word count (which was just slightly under 700 words) and thought, “What can I do to make this longer?”

My articles for Copyblogger typically run between 1500 and 2000 words. After drafting this shorter piece, I wondered if something was wrong. I thought perhaps I needed to come up with another piece of evidence for my idea, or an additional example to illustrate my point.

Then I stopped myself.

Online content does not need to be lengthy in order to be substantial. Stop writing once you’ve fully communicated your point — don’t keep writing for the sake of getting to some prescribed word count.

Yes, many long posts do very well online. Some of Copyblogger’s epic posts have been shared thousands of times across social media, and they often attract a lot of comments, too.

But remember that Brian Clark built this very site on a foundation of incisive posts on blogging and copywriting, and most of his early posts weren’t epic length essays. Many of them were well under a thousand words.

Some of the articles from his now legendary Copywriting 101 series were under 500 words.

So please, don’t use more words when fewer words will do just fine. If you’re stuffing your articles with fluff, you might make your precious word count, but you’ll lose your audience.

Thomas Jefferson once said:

Never use two words when one will do.

And, let’s not forget that one of the most widely-read bloggers in the world is famous, in large part, for his brevity.

There’s certainly a time and a place for writing in-depth content, lengthy sales letters, and thoughtful essays. But no matter what you’re writing, you need to write as little — or as much — as it takes to fully explain your position and persuade your reader.

There’s room in your content strategy for short, concise articles. Good writers know how to craft long and short content, and they’ve mastered the art of knowing which one to use in every writing circumstance.

So, consider this a reminder to keep short posts handy in your writing toolbox. Many in your audience will thank you for it.

And that’s ultimately who you’re writing for … right?

About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and social media expert who specializes in Pinterest marketing. To get more traffic-building tips, download your free copy of Beth’s e-book, The Definitive Guide to Driving Traffic to Your Website or Blog with Pinterest.

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  1. Hi Beth

    Nice and short and concise.

    Your point was brief and two the point.

    However I must argue that only a certain type of content would suit this style of writing. I have seen some pretty poor examples of short blog posts written because of a lazy effort from the curator.

    When would you utilise short posts ?
    And how can they be used effectively to bring a point across ?

    • Short posts can be more work in the editing than long posts are. If they’re going to be short, you need to make sure you’re making a point worth making, and every word needs to be there.

  2. “Stop writing once you’ve fully communicated your point — don’t keep writing for the sake of getting to some prescribed word count.”

    Excellent point! Why waste valuable online real-estate with fluff? Say what you mean to say and move on to something else. Both long form and short content have their place.

  3. Thanks Beth!

    I have noticed shorter posts on Copyblogger and knew one of the writer’s would write a post about how you don’t have to get wordy to make your point. My intuition has been spot on, lately. :)

    I agree that your content doesn’t have to be 1,300 words or more to be substantial. Sometimes, you can say more by writing less.

    Don’t limit yourself (I’m taking my own advice) by only writing a certain number of words. Your audience may find it refreshing to read a 500-700 word post. But then again, if you have an in-depth post to share, write and publish it.

    Remember, give your audience what they want. In fact, you may want to ask them what they want and need. ;)

  4. For the record, this one is 381 words. :)

  5. One of my favorite quotes: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” ― Mark Twain

    Conciseness is an art, in my opinion, and it does take longer to craft a better piece with less words.

    • Often because you start with lots of words on the page or screen, and then you need to take out the ones you don’t need. It doesn’t work particularly well as a lazy person’s strategy. :)

  6. A post should be as long or as short as you need to get across the point you want to make.

    If it’s really short then that’s great – as most of us prefer to consume content in manageable bite-size pieces.

    But if it’s a long and highly informative article then it can still be concise – provided no words are wasted and every single one adds value or helps convey what you’re trying to say.

    By the way, Beth, I think the tape measure is the perfect choice of graphic to go with your piece.

  7. “Thomas Jefferson once said:Never use two words when one will do”

    Don’t tell my wife, because she’s always complaining that I say so little. She then always says: “ah you probably have reached your limit of 1,000 words a day huh!”

  8. There’s obviously a lot to be said for conciseness, it’s an art that seems to be getting forgotten about as writers aim to hit X word count as stipulated by clients & publishers.

    As another commenter has noted, being concise only works sometimes (ie, sales copy) – you’d be a bit narked if you opened a newspaper only to find stories of sub 100 words. Imagine how much detail they’d be lacking!

    Anyway, great post – certainly some food for thought for those writers out there who write to hit mental quotas, not for self fulfillment.

  9. Very nicely done, no fluff all stuff.

    It’s interesting to me that Seth Godin’s post today had to be near 1000 words, incredibly long for him. Probably says something about exceptions and rules.

    Thank you Ms Hayden for a wonderful post.

    • Exactly, Tom. I’m not saying that long content doesn’t have its place — it does! But we don’t need to FORCE something to be a long post if we’re done communicating our point after 500 words.

      Not all posts need to be short, either! Everything in its proper place.

  10. Beth,

    You write to communicate. It could be short or long, but don’t over communicate. I don’t think I have ever counted the number of words I have ever written. I don’t want to waste my readers’ time. BTW, you are an excellent writer.

    Thanks.

  11. Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the best posts on Copyblogger is “10 Ways to Becoming a Better Writer.”

    Forty-seven words where one of those words is repeated ten times: “write.”

    The rest of Copyblogger is a footnote to that post.

    Good job, Beth.

  12. This has been a mystery to me since I first learned about blogging. Why on earth are we constantly prodded to write long posts when it’s blatantly obvious that people don’t have time to read much, and many simply don’t like to read at all?

    Though the “data” seems to suggest that long posts fare better, there must be something wrong with that measurement. Diehard readers may love long posts, but are blogs only for readers, or should they also reach out to the vast majority who could use your info but dislike reading?

    Pith and power are far more to the point than verbosity.

    • Verbosity is bad. Covering a topic with some depth is good.

      There are a number of “tricks” to break longer work into more manageable, reader-friendly chunks, but as this post points out, it’s also fine to mix quite short content in, where that makes sense.

  13. It’s not about counting characters. It’s about making your characters count.

  14. Agreed!! In my experience, it is totally fine to break word count rules (and any other ones) if that will help you meet the wants of your audience.

  15. Unless I have something that needs lots of words to get the idea across, I’m quite happy sending out a short email article/blog post. A short, concise article that gets the point across quickly is valuable. There are so many interesting/necessary articles to read that I simply don’t have time to read them all. And don’t even get me started on free training webinars/ teleseminars that are 90 min or 2 hours long. Who has time? It’s good my kids are adults and my cats are independent!

  16. Thank you, Beth. I’ve been trying for years to convince small biz owners/bloggers that not every post needs to be a gargantuan “home run” of epic length, and that variety on a blog is a wonderful thing.

    Happy to see a similar idea being shared here.

  17. Harrison Greene :

    How bizarre! You refer to brevity and the link you post is for a message from Seth Godin, who is noted for his very brief posts. Yet, the post you show to illustrate brevity is one of the longest posts I have seen him write.

    • The link is actually to Seth’s blog. Mr. Godin threw us a little curveball and published one of his rare long posts this morning. :D

      The post published before today’s is 45 words long.

  18. Awesome reminder. I’ve fallen victim to wordiness in the past! A good example of concise writing is Seth Godin’s work.

  19. I won’t be silly and drop names, but there’s a few awesome bloggers who not only write long (2,000+ word) articles and short < 500 word articles that I follow and read religiously. They use a technique that I like in that they include a "reading time" and "# of comments" with each post, so you know what you're getting into and how popular their readers have responded therein.

  20. How timely – I wrote a short post last night about a very topical news item. There was a lot more that could be discussed (and will be in the coming days in the media) but it would have meant more in-depth research. When I had finished my draft, I thought at under 500 words it was a bit short but decided I’d said all I wanted to at that point and getting it published quickly was more important.

    Here’s the link to the article – Beth, you might appreciate this ;)

  21. Nice! ;-)

  22. This is why I hate teachers making their students write 1500-word essays. If someone can get their point across in fewer words, why penalise them?

    I understand they want the topic covered in depth, but that doesn’t always mean length.

    So what do they learn? How to pad out their writing to an “acceptable” length.

    Some lesson.

  23. Great point made. Concise writing is a rarity anymore. Authors should break up long posts into multi-part series to get readers to return. Build blog post SEO with properly tagged photos and lists, which take up vertical real estate as it is.

  24. I loved this post, Beth.

    My all time favourite post on Copyblogger? Written by Ms Simone herself on the topic of ‘cookie content’. Here is the link:

    http://www.copyblogger.com/create-better-content/

    And this is mine that links to it: Whatever Happened to the Cookie Content? (398 Words)
    http://writinghappiness.com/short-blog-posts/

  25. Hi Beth, I am new here , I am into travel writing and photographer, does this apply to travel writing as well, some travel writer get paid by word count.

    • I’m referring to online content (of all kinds — travel writing or not) in this post. If you’re a freelance writer who gets paid by the word, of course you have to make your own call about what the length of your articles should be. But I would always encourage everyone to be concise and direct with their writing, and not to pad their content with fluff for the sake of a couple extra bucks.

      I’d rather have a reputation as an outstanding writer than one who earns more for every article because each piece is unnecessarily long.

  26. I loved this article. The more people realise that short is best, the better the wold will be :) We all need to fight against the belief that writing long is somehow better. It really isn’t. The writer who tells a story with a few words works hard so that his/her readers don’t have to.

  27. William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” was a game-changer for me in terms of paying more attention to the economy of words. Say more, write less. Now the tricky part is actually doing it!

  28. This is bad news for a paid web content writer like me, who are sometimes being paid on a per word basis.

    But the good news is, some of my clients agree when I tell them I can only write X number of words because the information is very limited. And yet, they still pay me for X+ number of words, probably because they understand my point.

    And just like what Brian Clark has always been saying, it about writing magnetic headlines and compelling content. A 1,500-word article can be useless if it is being stuffed by keywords.

  29. “Stop writing once you’ve fully communicated your point.” EXACTLY.

    Some make the mistake of pushing it further even after successfully getting their thoughts across. The results are disastrous. It sounded like the writers are trying too hard with unnecessary explanations making it chaotic. It will also come out insincere.

    Point taken.

  30. “Never use two words when one will do.” I love this quote from Thomas Jefferson.

    The reading span of readers have reduced significantly, especially with microblogs being able to provide information with as little 160 characters.

    I am always scared when I seen lengthy articles so I don’t attempt to start reading.

    This is an excellent tip and I implemented this ideology when I started my blog and has equally formed the fabrics of it.

    Many bloggers require guest posts to be a little above 600 words, but I have a limit of 350, and I think it’s great. :)

  31. I agree completely with you, Beth.

    Recently I’ve become a HUGE fan of content that goes straight to the point and leaves the ‘fluff’ out.

    It simply makes me appreciate the courage of whoever has dared to hit “publish” on such piece.

    In the end the longer pieces may really not be that different for the readers: they just get scanned more, possibly providing less information than a short, straight-to-the-point article would have.

  32. Nice Beth,

    This is super helpful, especially for new bloggers. The last thing we want is a fear of word counts : ) Honestly, I skim through most of the “epic” posts I read because I feel like its so much content to consume. If it feels like a college essay my mind yells TURN AWAY! I like the way you put it:

    “don’t use more words when fewer words will do just fine”

  33. Hi Beth, great post! I definitely agree with your statement, “Online content does not need to be lengthy in order to be substantial”. As writers, if we include only the most substantial content in our posts, and eliminate information that is unrelated or not useful, that’s what will keep people coming back for more because they know their time will not be wasted. Consequently, both the reader and writer benefit when posts are concise.

  34. This is refreshing news, especially when my sales job occupies most of my time, leaving less time to write 1,000 word articles.

  35. Lovely post and spot on Beth! One of my colleagues has an enviable breadth, depth and love of book knowledge. She is amazingly intelligent, highly educated, incredibly well read, and is above all else, a communicator and I like her very much. <3

    That being said, her blog posts are routinely 1000 to 1500 words and dagnabbit I just can't bring myself to read a post that long. Maybe it's just me, but I prefer a more easily digestible 300 – 700 word, snack-like post covering a few great points to a Thanksgiving dinner-esque post complete with pumpkin pie.

  36. That compulsive need to add more bullshit to a post just because you don’t think it’s long enough stems back to the days of those 20 page college term papers. At page 18, don’t add 2 more pages of fluff, just turn the shorter paper in.

  37. I count calories because I must. I need the discipline.

    I never count words because I trust myself to draw the line between informing and boring my audience.

    And the words that come before that line are the only ones that count.

  38. Stopping is one of the biggest pitfalls that new bloggers face.

    The idea of a blog is great, and lots of people start one up. Those first few posts often go up quite quickly, and seem to spring from your fingers. But as the days turn into weeks and topics dry up, so too do the entries. Eventually your blog becomes just another derelict in the internet’s ghost towns.

    That’s why short entries are so important. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by even 500 words, a simple 75 to 150 word post on your thoughts might just be the thing to keep you going. Content creation is never the easiest of things, and sometimes you’ll need these short posts to make it over the long haul.

  39. Thanks for the great advice Beth and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here. I too have found myself trying to add when it was totally unnecessary but, I’ve put a stop to it as well since as you say; The Reader Is My Target and not the search engines!

    Make it a great day and thanks again for reaffirming what I always thought.

  40. That’s what I learned in Journalism school.

  41. Hi Beth, thank you for sharing your idea about brief writing especially when we write for online sites or blog. As there are various sites and blogs are available on internet. Normally reader don’t wants to read lengthy article, unless it is really important to them considering these point concise writing has it’s own significance.

  42. My articles always less than 1000 words, most of them are around 500 words :( Maybe that’s why my website rank are not good.

  43. Thanks for sharing, Beth! Sometimes we have a word count in our head that we think our articles have to reach. But when written correctly shorter articles can work just as well.

  44. As a designer and developer, I find a really long post annoying… It tends to expose my holes in typesetting and leads me to think that there needs to be more visual queues (images) in the post.

    I would prefer it if posts were generally kept to this posts length only. It’s hard to make lots and lots of words pretty imo.

  45. Ashwin Casmir :

    That’s sound advice that works for any form of communication. Stop, as soon as you have clearly conveyed your point.

  46. Thanks for this, this should give writers a knock on the head.

    On a personal standpoint, I highly prefer shorter posts over long ones. For one, I hate reading long posts too. It annoys me especially if I can get the gist of the article halfway. Next, I’m a writer that hates prolonging topics just for the sake of writing long posts. It’s like “How can I explain this further if I can explain in one paragraph already?” It just stresses me out.

    I don’t see the point of writing long posts if you can make your point with a shorter one. Nuff’ said. But I do understand that there are topics that you need to explain in great detail and topics that needs every ground covered. Those are the exceptions. But if you’re a writer who believes that writing long posts is mandatory, something’s wrong. Because if you ask your audience what they’d prefer, I’m sure they’ll say they like it short too.

  47. That’s actually really good advice. I don’t know why I spend so much time trying to lengthen my posts, when I have no idea what to add. It’s easy making your posts fluffy filled but it’s not necessarily like what your saying. Thanks!

  48. Hi,
    Thanks for the tips. In a blog I have I often need to write very very short news, sometimes just 50-100 words. As I’m not really a PRO yet, I’m not sure if this is going to damage my google ranking overall and so I’ve decided for two different alternatives: not index all these short posts at all, or write them in a separate discussion board connected to all my social networks as well. Now I’m thinking to use only the “not index” solution, so my short posts will go to the RSS too. Will they affect my blog or not? Which would be the best solution for very short news? Thanks :)

    • I would write all of them for RSS and don’t worry about noindexing them. As long as they’re material you’re proud of, having some very short content mixed in there isn’t going to hurt you.

      • Thank you Sonia. I write them on my blog now for RSS and email subscriptions but it works as well even if I don’t index them. Someone told me that Google doesn’t like short articles and it could affect even other articles ranking on my blog, so that’s why I’ve decided to not index them but you probably know a lot better them me about it. Thanks.