I don’t know a great deal about Mark Twain to be honest, but I do love this quote of his. It sums up something that I think we all do. It is much harder to get your message across in a few words. Back in the day, working in print, you had the luxury but also the pressure of filling space. Pages and pages of space. Sometimes you could fill it with pretty much anything you like because filling it was the most important thing. With digital communication in theory the space is limitless but so is the competition for your audience’s attention.
There’s plenty of advice out there about what the optimum length is for a blog post, a title, a paragraph and even a sentence. We are all well disciplined in the art of getting the message across in 140 characters or less (here’s the origin story if you are interested). But I believe as humans we are still compelled by the ‘more is more’ notion. You can see this in everything from corporate site content, blog posts, business cases and something I’ve experienced first-hand many times when subject experts cannot reign their writing in. We find it easier to spew out every thought we’ve ever had than practice the art of self-editing.
The blank page is every writer’s nemesis so if that’s what it takes to get the copy flowing then I say, spew on. But go back and trim the fat, cut the bloat and get active in your prose. The real focus should not be on word count but on the quality of what you write, that applies as much to SEO as it does to humans. Does it offer something of value to your reader? Is it authentic and credible? The challenge is to get and keep their attention and if you can get your message across in 500 words rather than 2,000 you have a much better chance of getting the reader over the line.
My top tip for keeping it short and snappy, and appealing to your audience, is to write in a conversational tone. Cut out the words that you just wouldn’t say out loud.
Here’s my re-write of what I just wrote.
It’s easier to write a lot than a little – but who has the time to read it? Keep your audience front of mind; write as you would speak. Edit ruthlessly: cut the fat, cut some more and cut again. Quality rules.