EzineArticles Asks: What Is the Ideal Article Length?

The Debate Over Article Length

Is 400 words enough?
Is 1,000 words too much?
What is the ideal article length?

Target Articles Between 400-700 Words in Length

First, assume the articles in question, no matter the length, are of the highest quality and provide original, informative value in a well articulated and cohesive manner.

Next, let’s get down to business: 400-700 words vs. 1,000+ words.

We know articles between 400 and 700 words achieve better results in terms of reader views, click-throughs, syndication, and more. 400-700 word articles are long enough to provide essential information to readers, while being brief enough to be compatible with the average Internet users’ reading habits.

As Chris Knight said over 5 years ago, “7 articles that are 500 words will out perform 1 article that is 3,500 words in terms of the amount of traffic, exposure, and interest you’re able to attract with the same volume of content.” It was true then, and it’s true today.

Why Brevity Wins Over Superfluity

What is the 400-700 words length recommendation based on? Internet-reader habits, screen size (what content they can immediately see on their screen without scrolling), and instant gratification. If you follow the pattern of the typical search engine user, most of their search queries do not suggest the user is on a leisurely stroll on the information highway looking to connect with a particular author. Search engine users want relevant information and they want it now.

The typical search engine user won’t wade through text (even if it’s the most beautiful prose ever written), nor will they scroll to find their information. Hence, 400-700 words meets the user’s needs of instantly viewing the information they need to determine its relevance to them and it fits on the average screen without requiring the user to scroll.

When a search query is entered and the user finds your relevant, quality, and original article (and it exceeds their expectations), the user will continue on their quest with you for MORE information because you’ve proven you’re a credible source. The user will visit your website or blog where you may offer additional relevant content (e.g., ebooks, videos, infographics, newsletters, etc.). In turn, this will seal the deal on their interest in you and your platform by allowing them to bookmark, subscribe, or download your content.

Other Arguments for Concision

Even science is on the side of 400-700 words! In yesterday’s feature post on Neuroscience Writing Techniques, Expert Author Stephen Hager pointed to the 400-700 word range to ensure your key points are unhindered and easier to read for Kinesthetic learners (learning associated with a physical activity).

And finally, brevity isn’t “dumbing down” content. It’s trusting in what your audience knows and what they don’t need to know to still convey an idea. Think of Ernest Hemingway (literary legend and the father of the theory of omission), who wrote a profound and highly emotional story in as little as six words:

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Article size does matter and it can be what is holding you back from being truly successful. Give brevity a try.

What do you think is the ideal article length? We’d love to hear from you!

15 Comments »


1

If we go back to some of the definitions of the word, Article, as: Subject; matter; concern; distinct. Precise point of time; moment. To formulate in articles; to set forth in distinct particulars. One gathers that the nature of an article is precisely its brevity. Readers are expecting a clear to the point analysis and go-to resources and action steps, not a novel. As I see it, a written piece of over 500 words should be classified as something other than an article.

Comment provided December 6, 2012 at 11:26 AM

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Gabriela,

We couldn’t agree more! We recommend joining the debate that is currently going on here: https://twitter.com/EzineArticles

~Vanessa

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Stephen Hager writes:

This dialogue is exciting and positive; questioning our beliefs, mental models and behaviors will reveal new and better ways to communicate.

I use practical neuroscience as my GPS system to navigate all challenging questions. My first question regarding the debate about “articles” is: “What is the purpose of written words? As a starting point, perhaps one purpose is to communicate something the writer is passionate about and wants people to understand. Perhaps the purpose is to give the writers psyche/ego some “juice.” This list can be expanded and I invite you to add your perspectives and insights.

The next question is “what are the desired outcomes” from written words, as opposed to auditory expressions, and video presentations. The reasons might be similar or different for these venues of communication. Stating your desired outcomes now frames how you will go about structuring your “written words,” length of articles, use of visuals and how many you will author.

I am interested in learning what all you authors want to experience as “desired outcomes.” My desired outcome is for readers to understand and leverage their brain strengths for a better and more fulfilling life; I want my readers to “be the best they can be, and to help others do the same through the power of practical neuroscience.”

What good does it do to debate the definitions of blogs, articles, white papers, syllabuses and books?
The length and frequency of a communication is best addressed after defining what you want the reader to understand, know and act upon as a result of taking in and processing your communication.

Practical neuroscience research in the fields of adult attention span, accelerated learning and sales interactions show that short repetitions are more effective than one of two lengthy learning sessions. This is because the brain is building new neuro-pathways each time sensory and cognitive
processing takes place. You are building a “root system” for what you want to communicate. Remember that the brain only engages voluntarily with subjects of value; the attention span of the average adult is very short (sometimes seconds to minutes.) Repetition of a subject of interest will lengthen the attention span to where an individual will focus on written words for 10 minutes to even hours. So, its a “building process.” That is how our brains work.

Most sales people give up after one to three interactions with their prospects; successful sales people know that most prospects buy after 7-11 interactions. This assumes that what the “seller” offers is needed, timely, valued, priced fairly and trust has been built. So, is not an author a “sales person?”

I am honored to be a part of this dialogue and happy to continue contributing as long as there is interest, value and we all continue learn and grow together.

Best regards,

Stephen Hager
President
The Hadron Group
Creators of brain based human development products since 1992

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2
Neil Findlay writes:

Aside from the technical reasons why it is prudent to contain an article within a 700 word limit, the practical reality is most busy people, usually those whom we wish to influence, are time poor; they don’t have time to wade through yet another 3000 word read in their allotted browsing window. The best outcome is they will skim the article in 15-20 seconds to scan for any enticing keywords; the worst is they will simply bypass it altogether.

Comment provided December 6, 2012 at 3:57 PM

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Stephen Hager writes:

Neil, you are so right about people being “time poor.” Our obsessive “monkey brain” doing may be our undoing.

Even with chaos and manic multitasking, the human brain can take in a lot of information in that 15-20 second slot you reference. Most people would be surprised at how much information is registered and stored in ones brain in 5 seconds, provided it is of some interest and value. If this is true, then all of us authors may want to consider “5 second elevator speeches” to be embedded in our articles. This means use of key words, titles, headlines and graphic symbols that convey essence of the message.

With repetition, the brain will recognize these short segment messages and may adopt them as a “friend.” Over time, the brain will take more time to read more. This is a principle within practical neuroscience.

Thanks for raising a great point I could expand upon.

Stephen Hager
President
The Hadron Group
Creators of brain based human development products since 1992

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William Waites writes:

I believe it was Mark Twain who apologized for a long manuscript saying, “If I had more time, I would have written something shorter” (paraphrased, of course.)

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3
Randall Magwood writes:

I think 500 words is a good and ideal length. It’s longer than 400, but shorter than 600… i think 500 words is long enough to captivate the reader, all while making it not seem like a novel.

Comment provided December 6, 2012 at 4:09 PM

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Stephen Hager writes:

Greeting Randall,

That 500 word range makes sense to me; frequently, it’s a challenge because I am unable (perhaps unwilling) to condense my main points and supportive examples to this level. I wish there were some sort of “dash board” available to record how long people are reading/scanning an article as a function of number of words and how the article is laid out graphically.

My sense is that the readers brain is more tolerant of an article of interest that has numbered key points, bullets titles, short sentences, checklist and examples. My experience in our hands-on practical neuroscience workshops is that participants seem to retain focus and concentration more when there “short chunks” of information that can be digested in a couple of minutes vs. lots of detail with no end in sight.

Best regards,

Stephen Hager
President
The Hadron Group
Creators of brain based human development products since 1992

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4
Heather Labruyere writes:

this post DOES NOT MAKE SENSE….

I’m assuming it’s following it’s own advice???

Then how come you have to scroll to read it??

The problem is that 400 is the EzineArticles minimum (for most authors) , but we all know that we must include lots of ‘white space’ to make text ‘screen readable’ and that (good) images always hep attract reader attention……

IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to acheive all of this within a single static screen……….

Comment provided December 6, 2012 at 5:34 PM

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5
Stephen Hager writes:

Dear Heather,

You are so right about not being able to achieve getting all the key messages on a single static screen. .
Here is an experiment to try. Write a “conventional articles” and then rewrite it putting key learning points (numbered) at the very beginning and through-out the body until the very end. Then ask 10 friends/staff to take a look at each article covering the same material. Observe how long each person spends on each “version” and do a debrief.

From a practical neuroscience perspective, physically moving the screen cursor is a kinesthetic action that helps lock-in what the reader is visually observing. Dual processing facilitates memory.So, scrolling is a good thing; the challenge is to give the readers brain a reason to “scroll;” it’s a “call to action,”

I am interested in your comments and those of fellow authors about these practical neuroscience insights.

I am happy that you shared your views with us,

Stephen Hager
President
The Hadron Group
Creators of brain based human development products

Comment provided December 8, 2012 at 7:46 AM

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6

You make a great point. Article length is important. You want enough information to grab attention and inform, but not so much copy that they’ll get bored and stop reading.

I do agree that brevity is important. You should always be as concise, to the point and easy to read as possible. However, I think that article length should always be based on content, for highest quality. Some things you can’t accurately cover in 400-700 words. You just can’t do some topics justice in X number of words. So I aim for 500 words, but let the content and quality of the article, and audience, determine the final word count.

Comment provided December 12, 2012 at 11:22 AM

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Stephen Hager writes:

Hi Miriam. I strive for that 500 word target myself, and rarely make it. It seems easier to talk about the principles than to abide by them.

Quality reigns supreme; my litmus test is asking myself “would I want to read this article.”

I have an awesome virtual assistant that edits all my articles; she gives me “sandbox honesty” that helps me stay on-course.

Hope you have a great holiday,

Stephen Hager

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Hello Stephen, glad to see we agree, because, as I’ve heard somewhere on
one of my many reading forays, great minds think alike!

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7
GIJO GEORGE writes:

This is very true. Just like human readers, relevance is what search engines also taken in consideration these days for ranking purpose. With more refined algorithms they are now able to verify the authenticity of an article more than ever before.

Comment provided December 14, 2012 at 9:06 AM

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8
Stephen Hager writes:

Hi George. How true about algorithm’s. When I start thinking about this subject, I get lost and tend to lose focus on article quality. So, I am in a place of trusting that readers who have an interest in practical neuroscience will find us.

I use a virtual assistant who is savvy about key words and I trust her judgment.

Thanks for your comment; I understand where you are coming from.

Stephen

Comment provided December 16, 2012 at 6:32 PM

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