If you want to make a point in writing, make sure you nail the “so what” in your first 62 words. Readers won’t give you much time, especially online. It’s much easier and more effective to work with that reality than whine about it.
(See? That was just 44 words.)
“@agahran suggests that you have to make your point on online content within the first 62 words. Are you that disciplined?”
Thanks, Jeremiah. Yes, it’s true, I did say that. I know it sounds draconian, but here’s my rationale…
- Typical reading speed: 250 words per minute
- Amount of time a reader will grant you to demonstrate value (that is, after your headline has proved interesting, and if you’re lucky): 15 seconds (0.25 min)
- Number of words in which you need to make your most important point:
250 x 0.25 = 62.5
…So call it 62 words.
You don’t have to stop there, of course. After you quickly convey your main “so what,” you can go on to elaborate and support your point. Just don’t go overboard. People may read further. But even if they don’t, they will have gotten some demonstrable value even from that brief encounter with you — maybe enough to recommend or link to your writing, or to keep checking you out, or to bookmark it and read it when they have more time.
As Metzger Associates president Doyle Albee quipped at my session:
“Good writing should be like a skirt: Long enough to cover subject, but short enough to stay interesting.”
(Needless to say, Albee’s remark was immediately tweeted and launched a salacious conference meme, during which I may have promised I’d wear a miniskirt and fishnet stockings to the next Thin Air Summit. Be forewarned.)
As always, some smart folks disagree with me. My friend, mentor, and occasional verbal sparring partner Dave Taylor was at the session and appeared to disagree with my advice. He said that more educated, intelligent readers prefer longer, more thoughtful and eloquent content. He may be right. Reader preferences vary. If you think longer-form content might work better with your readers, experiment.
However, I still firmly believe that even educated, intelligent people who enjoy longer-form content also are caught in the attention crash and tend to do a fair amount of media snacking — phenomena that Owyang discussed in his Thin Air Summit presentation, The Future of Media in the Social Era:
What do you think? Is 62 words too tight or just right to really make a point? Please comment below.