In school, teachers set minimums on the number of words or pages a paper should be – the more important the paper, the longer the length. All too often, people apply this theory to business communications – the longer the document, the better the read. In fact, clients have sent me articles to edit and explain they’ve tried as hard as possible, but just can’t figure out a way to make the document longer.
While a lengthy article may look impressive, if it’s too long, many won’t attempt to read it. And if they do, chances are they won’t finish – have you read the Microsoft report indicating the average human attention span is 8 seconds? That’s less than that of a goldfish.
So how long should a written document be? While 400 words seems to be a healthy length, I don’t know if there is a magic formula. Instead, consider the following:
- Have a plan: Before you write your document, decide what your goal is. What message are you trying to share with the reader? It might be helpful to create an outline.
- Stay on topic: Say what needs to be said and then stop writing. While real life examples can be helpful, don’t go off on a tangent.
- Cut the fat: Review what you’ve written and delete the information that doesn’t add value. If you can’t delete, consider saying it in a more concise way.
- Keep it visually appealing: Large chunks of text can frighten readers. Keep your paragraphs short and consider using bullets and subheads.
Remember, you have a limited amount of time before you start to lose your reader, so make every word count.
(Still struggling? Don’t worry, your friends at SPR are always more than happy to help!)