Shorter is Better

Shorter is Better

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

We are inundated with information. People are starved for time and as such they greatly respect and value short correspondence, articles and blog posts.

If you want people to read something, make it short and concise. A paragraph that runs five sentences long is daunting and there is a good chance that the reader will not read it.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Use short words: They are easier to understand — so use simple English even if it offends your sense of literacy.

2. Use dashes to shorten up a sentence: Most readers are not grammatical experts and value sentences that are more in line with the way they speak — so use dashes to make the message clear.

3. Use bullet points and numbered paragraphs: They keep the message clear and organized in our minds.

4. Use plenty of space: The more white background space on the page, the easier it is to read the black text. Double spacing text is easier to read than single spacing.

If you’re reading a magazine and an article is six pages of text, you might decide to read it later. And later never comes. If the article is a well-organized one or two pages with bullet points and short paragraphs, there’s a better chance it will be read right away.

The strain on our 21st century attention would be unimaginable to those who lived in the 19th century. And yet…

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.

~Mark Twain, March 20, 1880

About the Author: Jim Estill is the CEO of Canadian computer product company SYNNEX and the author of the Time Leadership blog and book.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. OK, I’ll keep this short…

    When I click on a post I quickly scroll down. Honestly, unless it has really captivated my attention for some reason, I move on.

    George

  2. Yep.

    So important when writing web copy/emails/etc.

    I habit I preach yet struggle with.

    Jim
    Socialmarketing.com

  3. It’s a “TALK LESS. DO MORE” kind of activity. This is always appreciated.

  4. All these are great points. I like using bullets personally.

  5. I scan pages too and almost can’t read long blocks of text online. But I do feel that depth is being traded for brevity. :( We choose to wade rather than go for a good healthy swim.

  6. Susanne, the post is not advocating leaving out information, it’s saying leave out fluff and barriers.

    Direct mail studies show that if you can get people to read the first 500 words, you can keep them going for 5,000. It’s the first 500 where we lose people.

  7. One thing I am guilty of- I get long. Great info!

  8. I believe in long copy.

    This doesn’t contradict your post. Long copy that uses your tips is more effective than short copy.

    My old copywriting teacher said: if the copy isn’t there, the potential customer never will have the chance to read it.

  9. Point well taken. Perhaps this is why micro-blogging is so popular. Constantly editing yourself down to 140 characters only helps in everything else you write.

  10. Well said.

    And it’s less strain on the blogger as well!

    Blogging doesn’t have to be complicated, it has to be useful. Save the complexity for poems and novels.

  11. Great Points.

    I love using bullet points and numbered paragraphs.

    Keeps the audience.

    Thanks,
    Josh Peak
    http://twitter.com/joshpeak

  12. @GoingLikeSixty You got it.

  13. I always try to use simple language and shorter sentences which are easy to understand to every readers. Often uses screenshots also! :)

  14. I couldn’t agree more, especially with your point about word choice. In journalism school they taught us to write to the fifth grade level. The fact that you know a fancy word doesn’t always mean you should use it.

  15. Beautiful.

  16. 2 Question:

    Then why do all those direct response copywriters STUFF their sales letters with SO MANY needless words?

    Furthermore, why do they continue to TEACH copywriters long = good?

    While I agree short = good, I am in a constant struggle on what to believe.

  17. I superbly appreciate this article. Thank you.

  18. Mark, no good DR copywriter uses “needless” words.

    Short means “omit needless words,” not omit necessary information.

    Direct response copy that works provides ALL the necessary information (and for some products, that’s a lot).

    I think you need to reread the post, because you’re taking away the wrong impression. Go ahead… it’s short. :)

  19. True!

  20. I often struggle with this because my blog is for my short stories, vignettes, etc. I try to split longer posts (stories) into smaller chunks of 1000 words but it can be difficult. But, then again I’m not the normal blogger either. I do notice however that the longer stories usually get a lot less comments.

  21. Good post — your form matches your content.

    I think overshortening can also be a problem, because it can sound choppy and erode the writer’s style and flow that captures readers.

    I’m a huge fan of #2 – dashes are a simple and brilliant way to add excitement and variation to sentence structure.

  22. I like a straight and to the point article

    If Mark Twain was suggesting it back

    in the 1800’s I say why re-invent a wheel

    when there is no reason. People are busy!

  23. ugh-FINALLY-someone gets it! I couldn’t agree with you more, Jim. Keep it short; Keep it simple and Keep the readers coming back for more :)

  24. Churchill himself said
    it takes me five minutes to prepare a 5 hour speech
    and 5 hours to prepare a 5 minutes speech!

  25. I enjoyed this post – it was nice and easy to read.

    I’d add to this that a necessary part of writing short, punchy copy is very good editing – either by yourself or someone else.

    So many times I’ve written something in what I believed to be the most direct language possible only to re-read it later and cut out 30% of the words.

  26. Top advice here.

    I trained as a reporter and we were always taught to keep it short.

    Also to assume your readers have a reading age of ten. No complex language.

    In journalism everything is simple.

  27. Jim, I understand your point. But I disagree with it completely. Is that ok to do here?

    The reason people are starved for time is because as a society, we are suffering from an acute lack of focus and self-discipline. The reason people are starved for time is because they choose to give themselves over to the myriad of available distractions.

    If you want people to read something, make it meaty and worthwhile. Make it relevant. Speak their language. If you need to have five sentences in your paragraph to make your point, make sure they are well-written so that each sentence keeps people riveted and reading.

    Of course, if your audience is not all that smart, stick with the short words. Personally, I like to give people more credit than that. I have always been taught to assume that my audience is more intelligent than me, and that approach has paid off in spades.

    Are there cases where keeping it short works better? Absolutely. I take it on a case by case basis.

    Thank you for writing a thought-provoking post.

  28. Anyone who quotes Twain is ok in my book. Great advice.

  29. Well, I’d have to agree with that chrispian.

  30. Haiku response:

    Shorter is better.
    Say all that you need to say,
    But in a brief way.

    Thanks, Jim

  31. I am actually trying to cure myself of the long posts. They seemed to grow over time and now I have to nip that in the bud. It is hard to stop once it got started.

  32. Yes. But sometimes a long word will do as it reduces the word count and takes less to time to comprehend than, say, a phrasal verb, or an awkward sentence structure. This may depend on your audience too. Better advice would be to avoid showing off by using long words.

  33. Great post, as a very recent newbie blogger, I decided to try that out as I tend to say to much in general.
    Great tips!!!

  34. Fiona Fell - The Profit Maximising Web Geek :

    Brevity – for me, takes much longer to write and edit.
    But the effort is deserved by my readers who are all increasingly time poor.

    Fiona Fell – The Profit Maximising Web Geek
    htpp://www.FionaFell.com.au

  35. I have a terrible tendency to go long. In fact, I am in awe of Jim for having the discipline to write a post that’s this short. :)

  36. Brian’s right, of course. This post isn’t about short v long copy; it’s about succinct v rambling copy. Jim’s not saying you should write 100 words if 500 are needed. He’s saying you should write as much as you need, not as much as you can.

  37. There’s a huge difference between what we could write about a subject and what would be appropriate for the audience to read at one time… and benefit from.

  38. Glenn – What I got out of the post – and I read it twice before commenting – was that it’s saying make your posts short because nobody reads long posts.

    People read what is relevant to their interests, whether it’s a long, medium or short post or article. Length is less important than content, IMO.

    I have no problem reading a six-page article if it’s great content, but that’s me. If my target market is full of people with short attention spans, I’d probably go shorter, just not at the cost of a post losing its impact.

  39. Kelly – I somewhat agree with you in that short is not necessarily the best. Content is good, yes, but so is style and voice. What good would blogs be if they all read the same (short, terse, brief, quick, pithy, etc…)?

    Yes, short is good — it’s an appropriate format for this day and age. But it’s not an absolute rule, nor is it the always best way to get people’s attention.

    I got so interested in this blog post I wrote one of my own.

  40. I heard Robert Kiyosaki say something once along the lines of a genius will take something that is complex and make it simple for others to understand.

    Just because something is long doesn’t make it better. If you can say what you need to in fewer words more people will get it.

    Great post Brian!

  41. Great point, Charles.

    The good thing about the net in particular though is you can structure the message in a variety of ways. In school, we focused on letters/papers where the only space we had to work with was on the page.

    With the web & links, the message can be structured in a variety of ways. So while a web page may only have a core idea, a web site has it’s own unique voice & (typically) a lot of useful information as a whole.

  42. Hi Kelly. I see your point. Certainly Jim does advise shorter pieces. But the focus is on succinctness. He’s not suggesting you omit necessary content. He’s suggesting you omit unnecessary verbosity.

    Regardless, I agree with you that it’s all about the audience. Personally, I hate most long copy. Not because it’s long, but because it doesn’t repay my investment in time with respect for my intelligence and reading / buying needs. Most DM copywriters just talk (and talk and talk) at me. They don’t talk to me. But that’s a reflection of poor copywriting, not inappropriate copy length.

  43. I completely agree! I was just reading another post that mentioned a list of tips, including keeping your blog post short. I’ll do the same with my comment. :)

  44. You certainly elicit some interesting comments. Maybe, as Kelly said, we are starved for time because we’re scattered all over the place. I think she’s right, but we are also suffering from information overload. It’s difficult to read everything worthwhile when we are bombarded with so much stuff that is anything but. To be discriminating takes time. In fact, everything takes time, but I thing time I invest in reading your blogs is time well spent.

  45. This post should be titled ‘Short is Best’

    :D

  46. Joshua — now that’s funny!

  47. LOL, nice, Joshua.

  48. The more I use Twitter, the better I get at keeping it short! The 140 character limit forces you to omit the additional, extraneous, superfluous, needless, redundant and extra words.

  49. Ah… writer jokes. Who says the geeks have all the fun! Nice on Rob & Joshua! (Or… hang on… does that *make* us geeks?!)

  50. Joshua – that is funny! Thanks for the laugh.

    This post elicited a strong response from me because it is the same type of advice that made bullet points in PowerPoint so popular and dumbed down presentations so much that they became grossly ineffective. Seth Godin, Edward Tufte and Cliff Atkinson have all written extensively about this.

    If you can succinctly make your point in a compelling manner and with fewer words, great. If you can do it without the post losing your personal writing style and voice, as Charles mentioned, even better. To be able to accomplish both, many writers first need to discover how to write long texts effectively. It rarely happens the other way around.

  51. Short is best! Short copy is practical, considerate and respectful. You want to maximize people’s time, money and resources. As the LEAN Communicator, I advocate doing the best with less. And people appreciate it, including the readers of The LEAN Communicator, my monthly eNewsletter, http://www.ragan.com/theleancommunicator (I’ve got a survey open now, and readers love the 300 – 600 word stories.)

  52. Good points. I just wrote a post with some tips to creating a better website and one of the points I made is that you should write longer posts. I don’t always believe this, but I feel that when you are starting a blog, it can be beneficial to have longer posts because there will be more material for search engines to index and you may get more related keywords in your writing. But you will notice that the post in which I wrote this is very short. :)

    I agree with you that a short, well-organized, eye-pleasing piece of writing is more effective especially if it’s an introductory piece of marketing copy. Who’s got the time?

  53. @Chris: I think the biggest problem with what you’re saying is that you’re advocating writing for search engines rather than for people… If that is the case then the entire discussion here is pretty much negated in the context of your statement. This article isn’t really about writing blog posts or content to be SEO (unless I’m wrong?) it’s about writing blog posts that are more enjoyable and informative for the reader… Don’t worry about the search engines until you’ve nailed that down..
    In fact, writing lengthy articles for the sake of the “almighty” Google is likely to mean that your posts are quite the opposite of succinct, as you attempt to cram as much information (maybe too much information?) as possible into the piece in order to attract searches. Reader enjoyment is sacrificed to appease the algorithmic gods of the Internet. Blasphemy!
    :P

  54. Hi SG. That’s a misconception. There’s absolutely no reason why your writing can’t be BOTH google-friendly and visitor-friendly. People place too much emphasis on keyword density. That’s what screws up copy. But even at a density of 3%, you can still write such that visitors won’t really notice. On some topics, you can write at a higher density without causing any problems.

    The other element to what you’re saying is that you have to write heaps and HEAPS of copy to please Google. This isn’t, strictly speaking, true. Sure, Google prefers more content to less, but it prefers backlinks from high quality sites to both.

    In the long run, if you’re writing high quality, helpful copy, and you’re writing to your audience, you’ll naturally write quite a bit, and it’ll naturally be fairly keyword rich, with lots of related words thrown in. You still have to focus on keyword density as a yardstick, but it needn’t compromise the visitor experience.

    Glenn (Twitter @divinewrite)

  55. I need to work on keeping it sort and simple. I’m a habitual over-doer when it comes to writing. :)

  56. I’ve also found photos to be effective at breaking up text. As a food blogger, I find that photos detailing cooking instructions are much better received than a list of instructions.

    Better yet is photos and a list.

    Cheers,
    Nick
    http://www.macheesmo.com

  57. I agree with you in some aspects. Sometimes writing short things can be good, but others bad. I think you need to mix that kind of articles, and in those long articles try to keep the focus on the main topic, this way the readers won’t get bored with your writing.

  58. Bold, colorful, and large font do well to grab a readers attention as long as it’s an interesting sentence.

    I’ve found this to be a big help attracting those that skim pages.

  59. Clutter in a home mixes beauty with ordinary, and the beauty goes unnoticed.

    Eliminating excess helps an observer notice the most important elements – blogs, homes, life.

  60. I was listening to the Glazer-Kennedy “Think to Grow Rich” program today. This is a recording of Bill Glazer’s info-mastermind group answering questions about marketing and the success mindset.

    Alexandria Brown aka “The ezine Queen” mentioned in this program that she keeps the content she posts there down to 1000 words or less.

    She has excellent coaching and she’s making millions of dollars without sasquatch size posts so maybe she’s got a point.

    Something to think about.

    Note Taking Nerd Numba 2
    http://www.mynotetakingnerd.wordpress.com

  61. I really do find it hard to shorten my articles, but this is a great article. I love writing for my blog. I used to hire ghost writers but writing is great fun ^_^

  62. What’s really interesting is that most sales letters seems to be longer than they used to. I have bought a lot of ebooks and various Internet Marketing courses, but not even once, have I read the whole sales letter.

    It might be just a marketing technique, that the longer the letter, the more professional it looks, and the more people will buy it. I am not sure, but to me, they should all bee short and concise.

  63. Very true, most people hate long article, as they don know whats the meaning of this post when they started to read more
    So hitting on the point is more welcome for the reader
    But don forget about the bold, italic and underline word to point out your true meaning

  64. ei, i couldn’t agree more. I get bore reading lots of texts on a paragraph. Bullets do the magic

  65. I don’t know why everyone is so intent on saying long is better or short is better. It’s horses for courses; you write for your audience and objectives.

    And I’d be very interested to see if anyone can actually back up their claims. I’m talking about sweeping statements like “most people hate long article.” It’s not enough to think about what *you* like. In fact, it’s not even enough to think about what others *say* they like. I’ve read that many people respond to long copy even though they say they don’t like it.

    Darren Rowse at ProBlogger cites some research suggesting that there’s a steep drop-off in readership once an article or post extends ‘beyond the fold’ – i.e. the reader has to scroll. (I haven’t read the research myself.) But even this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Those who *do* read it may, in fact, engage with it, retain it, talk about it, bookmark it, link to it, and remember it even more than they would have had it been a short article. Who knows, they may actually become a customer as a result?!

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating long copy over short. I’m saying it all depends on who you’re writing for and what you’re trying to achieve.

    Glenn (Twitter: @divinewrite)

  66. research suggesting that there’s a steep drop-off in readership once an article or post extends ‘beyond the fold’

    This really annoys me, it’s the sort of idea that gets round the internet, and, before you know it, people are insisting every page you write is less than a page in length.

  67. Darren’s a pretty reliable sort of guy, so I suspect he’s not just making the research up. But regardless, my point is that, even if that research is correct, losing readers is not always a bad thing. It can be more than balanced by gaining a loyal following and potentially even customers. Again, it’s all horses for courses.

  68. Well, what he says is:

    Research shows us that elements of a website below the fold are seen by significantly less readers than elements above the fold.Introduction to Advertising Optimization – Ad Position

    But that would simply indicate readers scan the top of the page for information about post content (title, no. of comments, summary etc.) before deciding to ‘invest’ in the writing by dipping below the fold: if they don’t like what they scan, they don’t bother.

    I’m not sure that the OP was that shorter posts=better writing, just that short writing is better than long–winded writing. I think that applies to all audiences, especially when they’re reading from a screen.

  69. I agree with your intepretation of the research. And I agree that the OP’s intention was probably to advocate succinct writing over verbose. (In fact, that’s what I suggested in my first comment.) However, as Kelly Hobkirk pointed out, the post does actually advocate shorter posts. Check the second paragraph.

    Whatever the case, we clearly agree! :-)

  70. I trained as a reporter and we were always taught to keep it short.

    Also to assume your readers have a reading age of ten. No complex language.

  71. I need to work on keeping it sort and simple. I’m a habitual over-doer when it comes to writing

  72. I also think a shorter post is better,but you will have to be able to get your point across. You want to let the reader know the point of your post quickly. People are very to the point these days!

  73. - succinct

    – yes

    – good post

    – like it

  74. The bottom line is that most if not practically all people, potential customers do not care too much for long sales pages. Period!

    Sorry, fans of long pages, I go by what THEY say.

    You have to keep in mind that if we are talking about the Internet, many are antsy in their chair, they are tired, their eyes hurt, they are bouncing from site to site, they are not all comfy in ther couch kicking back….

    Many may indeed be interested, but if the page is too long, some will back out.

    That’s just the way it is.

    We can go on and on about this subject, but it’s the potential buyers who give the final word.

    The only exception would be if you can add entertainment, pictures and free tips to it the page to keep them going allllllll the waaaaaaaaay down…to the ordering form. :-) heh heh

    “2 Question:

    Then why do all those direct response copywriters STUFF their sales letters with SO MANY needless words?

    Furthermore, why do they continue to TEACH copywriters long = good?”

    Because they do not know what they are talking about. Just about all of that comes from message boards, and blogs started by wanna-be copywriters.

    “Direct response copy that works provides ALL the necessary information (and for some products, that’s a lot).”

    I see that a lot, but not once has anybody mentions these products, or shown the actual sales pages.

    If, IF it does have to be long, which I doubt, it can be broken up into three sections, with the last two being on different pages.

  75. I’ve learned with this post and reading some of the comments to make sure that I include the needed content in each article I write no more and no less. Sometimes it should be short, sweet, and simple.

  76. The problem with short articles is: I never remember them again.

    • I like to write in fluff and flowery, as my blog is all about daily life and inspiration. It’s very different if I’m writing about technical step to step briefing or how to do something. Maybe your post is a balancing factor to my maybe “overly fluffy and flowery” post. But as Alice says, it’s also true for me: I never remember them again. Oh well, maybe it’s just too short to even stick on my mind.

  77. Less is more and make sure you write something which has not been said already. Do not copy and do not repeat on someones previous efforts!

  78. Well said. How’s that for brevity?