Boundary: Smaller is Better

QUOTE: A DOZEN years after Michael graduated from the University of Michigan and headed for New York so he could teach fourth grade in Harlem, he still can’t put into words exactly what it was about the tenor of those storied times that impelled him to act on this idealistic urge. Maybe the problem is that if he did, he would then also have to find words to explain why, a few years later, he quit to become a staff writer for People magazine. But he seems to regard the teaching years as good, positive and downright admirable – in some contrast to his current gig, wherein he flies all over America writing profiles of noteworthy Americans. His next subject, for instance, is a 14-year-old blind baton twirler from Texas. He’s good at this. He once wrote the life story of a rock band in 32 paragraphs – “and they had two drummers.” At People, he explains, there is only one editorial rule: You can’t write anything longer than the average person can read during the average trip to the bathroom. “I’m tired of having all my work read in the can,” Michael grumbles. “People read Tolstoy in the can,” a friend muses. “Yeah,” says Michael. “But they can’t finish it. [1]

Why your content should be short: According to a presentation at with the clunky title: How to Make Your Blog Get Real Attention, aspiring content writers should: “Write short, pithy posts. After 750 words—or sometimes after only half that—you risk losing your reader’s attention.” Most content producers appear to take that advice very seriously. The average post on WordPress is just 280 words long (according to WP CEO, Matt Mullenweg). Most never get read by more than a handful of people. But some short content does get shared and seen by hundreds of thousands of readers. [2]

Microsoft conducted a widely publicized study a few years ago that concluded the average American’s attention span is only 8 seconds — less than a goldfish. This idea that no one can focus anymore has made its way into all areas of business and life, from 140 character tweets to the idea that no one will read long-copy sales letters or watch a video on their computer longer than five minutes. I call BS on all of it. The problem isn’t attention span; the problem is we have an infinite number of options to choose from…. If I have options and you bore me, it is easy to simply change the channel. Odds are I can find something that will amuse me, which means you have a very short period of time to entertain me or I’m off to the next option….  Let’s start with this: If you start talking about the latest whiz-bang scientific report, you’re done. Boring never works. [3]

NOTES:  In the beginning of journalism, reporters wrote with a conscious awareness that the telegraph line might fail at any moment. Therefore the most important news was sent first, then the next most important, and then the next month. At the bottom of the news was the details, in case the telegraph was still working.Technology is more reliable today, but human beings are not reliable. They stop reading after the first sentence, or the first few sentences or the first few paragraphs. There is no value in a long warm up – the minute they are distracted, your audience is gone. That”s why it is valuable to make your point as soon as possible, as clearly as possible, and with as few words as possible. This increases the likelihood that what you write will be read, and it will have an impact.

Some bloggers, like Seth Godin, have turned this into a trademark. Check out his blog here:

Proverbs 10: 19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.

QUESTIONS for thinking it through:
How could this clarify my Reality?
How could this benefit if added to my Disciplines?
Who needs to hear this?

[1]  From ‘The Big Chill’…Michael Chapter 177, By David Hinckley, New York Daily News,  Thursday, September 26, 2002, 12:00 AM, at

[2] Seth goes short. Buffer goes long. Here’s what you should do with your content, by Bob Marsh, at

[3] The Myth of the 8-Second Attention Span: How to grab your audience’s attention, even when they have infinite options, by Shaun Buck at

The image is from, a subscription service.

Any Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Blogging 101 Thinking It Through. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.