Writing tip: Keep it short, even when there's no copy desk to force you

Here’s a tip for young, or beginning, bloggers. Or even for old pros who need a reminder.

Just because your blogging tool lets you ramble on forever doesn’t mean your audience wants to read it.

The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote:

One of the hardest things about writing the column, as opposed to blogging, is the length constraint. It’s really, really hard to say something meaningful in a limited space. And yet, that constraint has its virtues: it forces you to be concise, to figure out what you really need to say and skip the rest, to find turns of phrase that are shorter and usually plainer. And my experience is that the process of doing all that almost always makes the thing read better.

I think Twitter’s has helped sharpen writers’ skills over the past few years. Think Krugman’s 800-word cap is tight? Try 140 characters. But too many writers switch mental gears when they close their Twitter application and open their blogging CMS.

Not everyone need write as tightly as Atrios, but why not make an extra effort to focus your words? Concentrate the power of your work into fewer words, so that they’re more likely to drive your audience to act upon them – to share them and promote your work with others. Dilute your work into too many words, and your audience will get bored and drift away.

Try this: For the next piece you post on the Internet, stop yourself before you hit the “submit” key. Copy and paste your words into some text editor. Count the words. Now try to cut half of them.

Can you make the same points? Keep all the important information?

If you can’t cut half the words, surely you could cut one-third of them.

Try this for your next 10 posts – whether they be blogs, columns, articles or comments. See if – or how – your writing changes under this demand.

If only more content management systems displayed the number of words as you typed, as Twitter counts down your remaining characters. Heck, maybe some CMS developer could bring back Clippy, who’d start yawning once you hit the 500 word mark. (You probably wouldn’t even need it to yawn – the mere sight of that thing returning to your screen should provide enough Pavlovian conditioning to make you stop writing.)

Yeah, I know. Writing online’s competitive. You want to get your stuff up, fast. Like Pascal, you know that it takes more time to write a short piece than a long one.

So that’s why you need practice writing tightly.

Start now. Wrap it up.

Don’t make me send Clippy after you.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at http://www.sensibletalk.com.


  1. I agree. If you look at Google Analytics at any site and how muc time people spend time per article, you realize 400 words is the max. Krugmans are the exception 😀

  2. I think if you’re writing an instructional or informational post, you can make it a little longer. It’s the opinion / entertainment posts that need to be really tight..