Is there a “right” length?
I’ve recently been involved in a discussion with another blogger — we’ll call him Tom — about blog post length. Tom has instituted an “aside” feature in WordPress that applies different formatting to very short posts that he’s identified as “asides.” But the length of his “short” posts is still longer than the length of other bloggers’ average posts.
And while the different formatting of asides comes through on Tom’s site, there’s no differentiation on his blog’s RSS feed, which is how I normally read his blog. So to me, Tom’s blog just suddenly started getting posts that were short, along with the other ones that were relatively lengthy.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows that my blog posts range from a single bullet items for a “This Just In…” link (which, by the way, is created automatically by del.icio.us) to 2,000+ word ramblings. That’s why I didn’t think it mattered how long a post was. It doesn’t really matter to me.
But Tom had made a distinction between his shorter posts — perhaps 150-200 words in length — and his longer ones — which probably approached 1,000 words. And that got me thinking (which is always a dangerous thing): what’s the “right” length for a blog post?
The Argument for Long Blog Posts
A long blog post, one can argue, shows that a lot of thought and effort has gone into the topic. The blogger started with an idea, perhaps jotted down some notes about points he wanted to cover, did some research that resulted in useful links, and wrote up the post.
This is [supposedly] what we browse the Web for. Anyone can grab a few links and call it a blog post. But how many people can actually write something original based on an idea and references on other sites and blogs? Surely fresh content backed up with links to references has good value. And that’s what serious bloggers should be striving to create.
The Argument for Short Posts
Short posts can have a certain wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am quality to them. You get a thought, you share it, and you move on to the next thing, leaving the reader to think the rest out for himself. If what you’re sharing is compelling enough, the reader might follow whatever links are included to learn more or do some other research or thinking on their own.
While that might be good for readers who like to think for themselves, I’m not convinced that all of them do. They want the blogger to do the brainwork and report the results. After all, if they wanted to do their own serious thinking and research about a topic, they’d likely become bloggers themselves.
Again, this all depends on the blogger. Some bloggers can, in a short post, put a new spin on a topic that’s been explored by others. Those blog posts are a real pleasure to read.
Other bloggers seem to simply rehash the thoughts of others. You know. Soandso says this and whosewhatsit said that. Here are the links.
Oddly enough, a blogger’s success does not appear to be tied into how well he can come up with original content. Many popular bloggers fill their blogs primarily with links or brief commentaries about other bloggers’ conclusions, without adding much food for thought. Yet they continue to gain a following, for reasons I can’t quite comprehend.
My argument is that it doesn’t really matter how long a post is, as long as it provides something of real value to the reader. Does it make him think? Does it give him fresh information? A new way to look a topic?
If the answer is yes to any or all of those things, what difference does it make how long the post is?
My Problem (or one of them, anyway)
But Tom got me thinking hard about post length. And although he’s worried that his asides are too short to be considered posts, I’m worried that my posts might be too long.
My problem is that my blog posts are often a bit too original, based on my own personal experiences. Although they tend to be peppered with appropriate links — when I find them — if you’re looking for a blog post based on someone else’s post or one that’s heavily cross-referenced to others, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. I’m on another planet sometimes — planet Maria, perhaps — and I draw from the well of useless (or sometimes useful) information that’s in the atmosphere there.
To further complicate matters, my blog posts tend to be very long at times, almost to the point of becoming pointless ramblings. (Yes, I do know this. Sorry. I can’t help it.) If I get an audience for the title, how many members last through the whole post? Even I don’t have the patience to read blog posts as long as some of the ones I write. So clearly, there’s a limit on length.
My Solution (to this problem, anyway)
My solution to the problem is to break up long posts into shorter, multi-part series posts. I’ve already done this with my post about Copyright for Writers and Bloggers. And the other day, I actually went back and broke up my post about Copy Editing, which was insanely long and rambling.
There are two benefits to this:
- My long posts get broken up into more easily digestible pieces. Now I don’t have to worry about keeping my audience’s attention for 2,000+ words.
- I can schedule parts to appear in the future. This is a great WordPress feature. Although I usually write multi-part posts in one sitting, they don’t have to appear all at once. That means I might even get a day off from blogging.
- On the off-chance that I’ve interested a new visitor in the topic of a multi-part post, he may just come back to read the remaining parts. Or, better yet, subscribe to my feed to have them delivered to his reader.
Did I say two benefits? I obviously meant three.
And on that note, I think I’ll draw this post to a close. After all, if I keep typing, I’ll just have to chop it into multiple parts.