Friday, April 24, 2009

Word Count and Reader Attention Span

I don’t know if anyone has done a study of how long a blog post should be, but for me, 250 words is a good number to remember and no more than 500. At some point I signed up for the RSS feed for Randy Alcorn’s blog. He often has these 700 word monstrocities. I don’t even bother to scan his text as I scoll through it. I aught to dump the RSS feed, but I keep thinking he’ll say something that interests me.

When people talk about this subject, they often say things like, people don’t have the attention span they once had. I don’t believe the evidence bears out that assumption. There are gamers who will spend days, nearly uninterupted, trying to complete all levels of a computer game. Huge attention span! I mean huge! More than once, I have read through more than 100 pages of an online PDF document because I believed it would help me with my job. The problem isn’t that people have shorter attention spans. The problem content and format.

Creating Content People Will Read

 Suppose I’m working on a car and the battery is in some weird place. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to disconnect it. I go to my computer and find a blog that gives me step by step details on how to disconnect the battery. If it takes the blogger 3,000 words to explain every detail, I don’t care. I’m going to read every last one of them and then I’m going to print the post and read it again as I follow his instructions. A person’s attention span lasts for a long as we provide him something of value and no longer.

Blogging shouldn’t be about giving ourselves a forum from we tell people what we want them to know. Instead, we should  write only what gives value to our readers. We can lengthen blog posts when we give people a promise of value by breaking the post up with headings, like the one above. This allows the reader to scan the post quickly and determine if it provides information he needs and even to skip those sections that he doesn’t.

The Issue of Format

Every media format has a level of attention span built into it. The same person who will read a 1,000 page book doesn’t want to read a 1,000 word blog post. People read blogs for short bits of information or as a way to kill a few minutes of down time. As bloggers, we need to respect that. If we want to provide information in a longer format, it is better to link to another webpage or a PDF document. The reader can decide when he wants to read the long form version.

Next week I’ll be back and I expect to have a post about Facebook and then a post about the Narrator in a novel. There’s more to it than point of view, so don’t miss it. In the meantime, you might answer, How long are your blog posts?


Cindy R. Wilson said...

My posts tend to be on the long side, which I am trying to remedy. If it's something that needs to take up more space, I try to break it up a little so it doesn't look like one long paragraph (something even I would probably skip over if I saw it somewhere else).

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

I agree with Cindy. My posts also tend to be long. I always start out believing that I will keep it short and simple but it gets long and long and long. I think your article will help me remedy it to some extent.


Michelle D. Argyle said...

My blog posts are generally short. I find that more people read them, and I get more comments that way. I find it nice when I read shorter posts, so I think it's nice to have short blog posts most of the time.

If my posts are longer, I always break them up with bullet points and headers. The last thing I want to do is lose my reader. They all have lots of posts to read!

Anonymous said...

I am about to start my own website, but I didn't want to bore people with too much information. I googled "attention span reading word count" and got your page. Want to say it is really helpful and I totally agree with what you said. Thank you for the suggestions!