Too many words

Recently one of my LinkedIn groups had a discussion about social media, which I followed with interest— especially because several members believe that social media still has limited value in employee communication. (You get the irony, of course: They’re using LinkedIn to proclaim that social media is not useful.)

In any case, one thing that struck me is how long the comments seem. People go on for sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, until the screen is filled with their posts.

How long is long? I cut and pasted one typical entry and was surprised to learn that it had only 385 words. It seemed so much longer—I would have guessed 750 words or more.

There was a time (in the not-too-recent past) when 375 words would have been considered a “short” article. Now, a 250-word piece seems like an in-depth read.

And yet, communicators still cling to long content. In fact, several months ago, I facilitated a writing workshop with an internal communication team. The director had provided me with some intranet articles as background. I couldn’t help noticing that all the articles were extremely long—one had nearly 800 words.

During the workshop, a participant asked me about the ideal length for an online article. I answered that there is no golden rule, but that attention spans are short. Employees seek bite-size chunks of information.

The communicator persisted. “But what’s the maximum length for an article?”

“300 words,” I replied.

There was a moment of silence. Team members were probably thinking about those long articles they had been producing.

Someone else chimed in. “But it’s okay to write longer, right? I mean, what if the article contains 750 good words?”

Good words? The point is not about quality, but about time. No matter how brilliant your prose, employees are not going to pore over content when they’ve got a million other things to do.

Which reminds me: I’m out of space. See you later.

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