How short should your online article be?

TLDR, as it appears on Twitter and other social networks, is sometimes followed by a brief and handy summary of an extended article to be found elsewhere. More often than not, however, TLDR is used as a snippy riposte to a piece deemed too lengthy for digital. TLDR? Too long, didn’t read.

In a world of 140 character tweets and five to six inch mobile phone screens, long is bad. Right? Well, maybe.

It’s certainly true that some publishers are thinking hard about word count. Take Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief of business news site Quartz. He talked recently about the tyranny of the 800-word article. As a former Wall Street Journal journalist he’s written his fair share of stories at this length and he remains unconvinced.

He told Digiday: “A lot of the 800-word stories have been padded out with B matter. It’s called B matter because it’s B grade, not A matter, which is the focal point of the story.”

Delaney argues that readers tend to gravitate to “shorter stuff” online. “It doesn’t mean it’s unsubstantial. It just means it’s really clear about what’s interesting and focuses on that.”

This thinking is reflected in a decision Associated Press took last year. Its journalists were told to make their stories – with a few exceptions – between 300 and 500 words long. Why? “We need to be more disciplined about what needs to be said,” Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor told the Washington Post. “We don’t do enough distilling and honing, and we end up making our readers do more work.”


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