I Still Obsess About Word Count.
“How long should my article be?”
It’s an age-old question in the blogosphere. Sure, longer posts seem to perform better if they can hold the same engagement as shorter ones, but that’s a big if.
In general, the answer to this question seems to be this: your story should be as long as it needs to be. Write as much as is required to get your points across without adding unnecessary information.
I’ve read this so many times. I know this. Yet, I can’t force myself to believe it.
For a bit of background, most of my articles naturally end up between 750–1000 words. It’s my sweet spot. Sometimes I’ll write more long-form, but I rarely, if ever, release a piece with fewer than 750 words.
I don’t allow myself to.
Since I know how long my writing tends to be, writing something shorter feels unsatisfactory. It’s like I haven’t worked hard enough. Hitting publish would almost be pathetic. Instead, I elaborate on something or add an extra point to beef things up before I give the final green light.
These additions don’t necessarily add quality to the overall work, but in my head, a certain quantity must be reached before quality comes into play at all. For something to be acceptable, it must be at least 750 words.
Which is weird, as I don’t hold other writers to that standard. I read and enjoy plenty of shorter articles because good writing is good writing. However, for whatever reason, I can’t acknowledge that in my own work.
This is troubling, since, with Medium, a story’s length has never been more transparent. An estimate of how long, in minutes, an article takes to read appears just under the writer’s name and next to the publish date. It’s even displayed even your feed, meaning a reader will always know how long something is before they click on it.
The formula for read time isn’t immediately obvious, but in the help section, Medium has this to say about their metric:
Additionally, in an earlier post, they went into more detail on that image adjustment.
So we amended our read time calculation to count 12 seconds for the first image, 11 for the second, and minus an additional second for each subsequent image. Any images after the tenth image are counted at three seconds.
These pieces of information allow us to calculate how long a post needs to be to reach a specific read time. The first image, at 12 seconds, is the equivalent of 53 words. So, for an article with just a title picture to become a two-minute read, it needs to be more than 212 words long (including the title). Each additional minute is another 265 words on top of that.
Following this formula, for a four-minute read, a one-image article needs to hit…753 words.
Well, wouldn’t you know? That’s almost exactly the 750 minimum I set for myself. Knowing this, it’s no surprise most of my pieces fall in the four to five-minute range, and that I haven’t posted anything shorter than that so far. Even above that minimum, if I know I’m close to an extra minute, I shoot for it.
That’s changing right now.
This article will clock in at three minutes, despite my wondering if I could extend it to four. It comes as part of a gradual realization that the value of words is largely unrelated to how many of them there are.
I’d still expect most of my pieces to clock in around the usual lengths — as I said, it’s my sweet spot. But I’ll put more focus on writing the best pieces I can instead of hitting arbitrary word count goals.