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Why Word Count Matters

Readers appreciate clearly stated concepts, explanations, and opinions.  It’s not because they are dumb.  It’s because they’re busy.  And constantly sifting through reams of information, separating the wheat from the chaff.

Why not give them wheat every time?

One simple formula for paring down prose is to write shorter words, shorter sentences, and shorter paragraphs. Far from “dumbing down,” you’ll be following in the tracks of Hemingway, Aristotle, and Twain.  Each confidently embraced simplicity.

Here are a few modern examples:

  • The Wall Street Journal’s average word length is 4.8 characters.
  • The BBC keeps lead paragraphs under 25 words.  Short lead paragraphs invite readers in.
  • Web visitors read more of page when it has shorter paragraphs, according to research by Poynter Institute.
  • If sentences are too long, people have trouble following the idea, according to research by the American Press Institute.

If you truly seek to engage and inform readers, think shorter. While it may seem counter intuitive, your message might stick with them longer.

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