250 words is the soul of wit



From time to time, I recall Matt Mullenweg’s casual aside that the

average number of words per post is almost always exactly 250.

That number is so small! My average post is perhaps 600 or 800 words long. Perhaps it’s habit: that is the length of most articles in The Economist.

Still, the fact that the average is so stable fascinates me–just as the remarkably stable number of members in the social groupings of primates fascinates me. It suggests that perhaps there is an optimal length for this medium (ie, blogging).

Readers of blogs don’t expect essays. They expect short, bite-sized nibbles, somewhere between the thought fragments on Twitter and the polished articles in a magazine.

Or perhaps 250 words is simply what fits onto one screen on most laptops and browsers, and blog readers don’t expect to have to scroll down.

In any event, I (who have written a 110,000-word book and think nothing of reading 500-page books) have discovered that I find it difficult to get through long blog posts. They tire me out. And I have noticed the irony that when I last opined on length, as opposed to depth, in writing, it took me 1,008 words to praise… brevity!

Polonius, the father of Ophelia and Laertes in Hamlet, did it better, of course:

brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes.

So I’ll try to keep my posts shorter. This one, as you may have guessed, is exactly 250 words long.

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17 thoughts on “250 words is the soul of wit

  1. 251, according to Word. I don’t know how it treats 250, 600, 800, ie, 110,000 and 1008
    but there, you were always far above average.

    This must be very important, after all, Mr Mullenweg thinks so.

    I’d love to know what an unstable average is: insanely mediocre? That would make a stable average sanely exceptional – a contradiction.

    Cheri tells me my comments do not relate to her posts. I hope this relates.

    • Good comeback, Ms. Sabraw.

      I’d check the word counting from Microsoft. I’ve seen Microsoft Excel calculate standard deviations incorrectly, too.

      (I probably won’t get paid for that product placement).

    • Gee, tanks.

      Andreas, I like your longer blog posts.

      I do look at word count when I write for my blog. Most are about 450 words. That’s perfect, isn’t it?

    • Well, the truth is probably that ANY length is fine as long as it does not tire the reader but captivates him and propels him forward.

      The rule, maybe, should be that the MINIMUM word count is ideal, but that number will fluctuate.

    • This relates because the word “wit” was in the title and you’ve supplied it. 😉

      Incidentally, there is no need on the Hannibal Blog to stay on point. Free-associate away. You’ll know if it makes sense from the reactions of the others….

  2. Hi Andreas – have been overindulging in thought fragments on twitter, of late…

    a) Obvious but possibly still worth saying – many (probably the majority) of blog posts are quickly written and just not well written (present web address excepted of course) which reduces the desire to go the distance. Quality thinking and writing are needed to sustain interest, and both take time… which is rarely expended in the blogosphere

    b) Length preference for a give outlet might also be to do with “textual orientation” and way we read various types of writing. A friend (and excellent long form writer) Trevor Corson wrote an interesting piece on Christian Science Monitor on the effects of horizontal vs vertical scrolling when reading on screens. As a Kindle user – wonder if you have any thoughts on the subject.

    • This “Tofu” thing in the article sound very intriguing. Too bad they didn’t provide a screen shot.

      Actually, I totally agree that our present vertical scrolling is so unnatural that it will soon go extinct. We have, in the internet era, gone back to the days of scrolls. Not “as I read on page 213” but “as I read nine-fifteenths or so of the way done on my scrollbar”. Nuts.

      Horizontal might work better.

  3. I’ve just checked the four most recent blogs on the Economist’s web-site.

    The word counts were: 449, 843, 82, and 658. This averages out at 508 words per entry.

    So, we who blog should aim at 508 words per entry if we wish to be read.

    The Economist can’t be wrong.

  4. That’s because you’ve used an abnormal curve, Mr Crotchety.
    The original hypothesis is therefore disproved, whatever that was.
    My confidence is restored, despite Cheri’s further attack.

  5. A piece of writing, or indeed computer progamming, which comes right first time is often just right in all other ways as well without effort. Something which requires licking into shape frequently fails to yield at all.

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