Is being long-winded hurting your communications

Picture_8 We seem to live in what I call a USA Today society.  "Give it to me short, sweet and if possible, in a colorful graph.  Otherwise, I’m going to ignore you."

Do you get that same sense?  Dr. Taly Weiss did some research on her blog TrendsSpotting that shows that of the top 100 blogs — most of them routinely have posts of less than 500 words. 

As communicators, we often have complex issues to discuss or complicated products/services to explain.  How do we accurately and adequately get the message across in this short and sweet world?

Here are a few ideas I had but I’d love to hear yours.

Chunk it.  Break up your content into bite-sized pieces.  If the reader is willing to invest in the first paragraph…and it’s relevant, they’ll keep reading.

Visually trick the reader’s eye.  Use lots of white space and color to break up copy and to create the illusion that the copy is shorter than it is.

Divert them. Use your initial pieces (direct mail, blog post etc.) to give your potential customer the highlights and then provide them with repositories of information.  Point them to your website, blog archives, more detailed collateral, etc.

So….how do you combat the USA Today mentality?

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8 comments on “Is being long-winded hurting your communications

  1. Carol Bodensteiner says:

    Have also heard this called ‘refrigerator journalism.’ Copy short enough, and organizaed in bullets, to be posted on the refrigerator and read easily as you pass by.

    Don’t have a name for this, but one client I work with trys for copy short enough to be read between the mailbox and the house door.

  2. Art Dinkin says:

    Why “combat” this? Isn’t this just a method of dealing with information overload?

    Eating is essential for life, but we can not eat one huge meal on Monday and then fast the rest of the week. Nor can we gain by continuing to eact once we are full. I like your strategy of Chunking (do not provide more food than one can eat) as well as Diverting (if you are still hungry, go back for more).

  3. Carol,

    Ahh, fridge journalism. I understand the audience’s demand for it. But I have to admit, I miss longer form copy too. It’s hard to tell a story in soundbyte length.

    Nice to have you stop by!


  4. Art,

    Well, that’s the challenge. How do you live within the boundaries of what the audience demands and still tell your story. The chunking and diverting tactics are really ways to get the reader to let you take a little more time.

    But in the end, the consumer wins. If they don’t read it, they don’t buy it.


  5. Nic Darling says:

    I often have a tendency toward length when I write. In fact, just before I saw this entry, it had just been suggested that I write a few really short posts to break up the longer ones I produce more routinely. What do you think about this approach? Can I keep writing longer items (with some added attention to chunking and diverting) and intersperse a few quick, short insights like snacks between meals?

  6. I believe in the adage, “People will read anything, of any length — if it’s interesting.”

    I also agree with the idea of breaking up copy into shorter paragraphs; I think it helps with retention of ideas as well as eye fatigue/brain drain.

    And, there are lots of other copywriting goodies, like using connectors and disconnectors, and such. But in my mind, they all come down to ‘doing it well.’

    You can have 240 words, but if it’s junk, it’s junk.

  7. Nic — I think to a certain extent, I agree with Adam. If it is good stuff, people will read it. But, I also think we can be kind to our readers by using sub heads and visuals to break things up. And your idea of mixing short and longer, more meaty posts is probably a good one. Why not try “polling” your readers every now and then? A sentence or two…and then let them do the heavy writing for a change?


  8. Adam,

    You bet — if it is good, they will stick with it. I agree. But…there’s nothing wrong with giving them some visual breaks.

    But you are right in the end. It’s either worth reading or its not.


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