(last edited on April 29, 2014 at 1:27 am)
Is there an ideal blog post length? I just scanned through a few dozen of my 250+ word posts to see what secrets I could uncover about my own style. The following observations are based on my gut feeling on what makes for an effective “Dave-Style” blog post.
Introduce the Topic in the First 25-50 Words
I sometimes take a while to get to the point. This is probably due to the exploratory way that I write; I often don’t know exactly where I’m going, and am writing to see where I end up. We’re all busy; it behooves me, I think, to try to introduce the point as soon as possible. It may be amusing for me to take my time to wander to the point, but if readers don’t know where I’m going…that’s boring.
Apply “New Idea Periodicity” Mindfully in Your Informational Posts
There is a silly idea in interactive design that “excitement” can be boiled down to a simple metric: interactions per minute (IPM). It’s roughly equivalent to the musical idea of beats per minute (BPM); when you look through stock music catalogs, you often see BPM listed along with the genre.
The reason I find IPMs silly is that it doesn’t take the quality of the interaction into account. Same thing with music; sure, 120BPM is going to be perceived as more “energizing” than 80BPM, but that effect will last until for about 2 repetitions. Our brains are excellent at recognizing patterns, but after the pattern becomes obvious our minds will start wandering to something else. So it’s very important that you change things up in some way to maintain interest, whether it’s game design, music, or writing.
Now, I’ve just delivered two ideas in about 100 words, because I’m trying to be mindful that without new input, the mind starts wandering. In this post, your mind may be wondering where I’m ultimately going with this, but the novelty of the ideas so far hopefully is keeping you reading. You may have even forgotten that I was writing about “New Idea Periodicity”, but if the Muses are smiling on me I’ve built some anticipation. Now I’ve got to deliver it some the pattern I’m building is complete. Otherwise, I’ll get lynched!
So here’s what I mean by “New Idea Periodicity”: introduce a new idea every 50-100 words. Any shorter, and the ideas don’t have time to sink in and develop. Any longer, and I get bored.
Establishing the Pattern
By introducing a new idea every 50-100 words, I’m attempting to provide a certain “freshness” of content, enough to at least keep the mind engaged and build momentum. you’re also establishing a kind of “idea pattern”; your mind picks up that things are moving along, and it’s pretty enjoyable. The writing has met a certain expectation.
My gut feeling is that you can introduce new ideas about 500 words before people start to expect a larger point or metapattern to be made. You need to remind people that these points are somehow related together. If you can’t, the post dies: it’s “just a bunch of stuff that happens”. That’s not necessarily the kiss of death; when done well, you end up with an episode of Family Guy—utterly random but enjoyable for the moments. When done poorly, you end up with Season 12 of The Simpsons.
I’ve noticed that many of my weaker posts are around 500 words in length. For me, this appears to be the word count of doom, my personal Bermuda Triangle where posts are lost. These posts tend to deliver one or two ideas, but fall flat because they have nowhere to go.
The Nexus of Decision
Up to now, I’ve tried to maintain rhythm and energy by setting up the expectation that there are new ideas every 100-250 words. I’m at the 600 word mark—the aforementioned word count of doom. I basically have two choices:
- End the post! Don’t wear out your welcome! Conclude gracefully and then Title Appropriately.
Summarize, breath, then deliver another round of fresh ideas.
p>In both cases, I need to draw some kind of conclusion, which to me just means taking a “summarizing breath.” I’m struck by the similarity between what I’ve said so far and song structure. I haven’t studied music composition, but it appears I’m doing something like AABA]aaba. Ideas are A, the summary is B.
I’m Taking Option 1
Looking back at what I’ve written so far, I’ve delivered the essence of a complete idea: be mindful of how often you introduce new ideas. Do it to keep the mind interested and engaged. Now I have to pick a title.
There are some additional ideas I have, but I will put them in an upcoming post just to see what happens.
Random aside: I’m thinking that writing a good 1500 word article is probably very much like writing a good pop song. Writing anything longer may be like approaching serious classical music, or it could be like assembling the perfect album of songs. I’m leaning torward the latter approach, though I’m not worrying about greatness yet :-)
Du-u-de, it’s hard enough posting to my blog regularly; and now you’re making me think about these inconvenient and obscure concepts like “structure” and “keeping my audience interested.” (whatever!) Too much pressure, man.
melanie: to run the other direction then! be adaptive and write for yourself! :-) I just like exploring the opposite of what I do normally to see what happens.