As king of the one-sentence paragraph, not surprisingly I agree with Ann Wylie. Shorter is better (usually) when it comes time to engage and inform stakeholders. As she noted recently:
“Size does matter. All things else being equal, your readers would rather read a short piece than a long piece.
In writing — as in eating, imbibing, reality TV viewing and so much else in life — it’s good to set limits. In other words, establish an appropriate length limit for each piece you write. Here are some ideas for inspiration:
- The recommended length of the average press release has dropped from 400 words B.I. (before Internet) to 250 words A.I. (after Internet), according toB.L. Ochman. What have you done to respond to the obstacles of screen reading in your PR and other communications?
- What’s the best length for a tweet? While Twitter cuts you off at 140 characters, the better limit is actually 129 characters, according usability expert Jakob Nielsen. That allows for the average 11-character attribution that gets added whenever anyone retweets your status update.
- Sandra Oliver, a researcher at Thames Valley University in London, found that employees would read about 400 words of their CEO’s message. How long is your CEO’s message? If it’s longer than 400 words, did you put the words you don’t want employees to read after the first 400?
The right length for each piece, of course, depends — on the topic, audience, medium, vehicle, budget and other matters of judgment. But using these ideas and observations, you can establish general copy length limits.”
And if you aren’t convinced, see this post from Ann:
“How long is too long?
When it comes to paragraphs, the shorter the paragraph, the better, according to The Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack III study.
“The bottom line is that stories with shorter paragraphs got more than twice as many overall eye fixations than those with longer paragraphs,” the Poynter researchers wrote. “These data suggest that the longer-paragraph format discourages reading and that short-paragraph format overwhelmingly encourages reading.”
That’s not really surprising to anyone who’s studied the effects of paragraph length in print or online: People tend to skip long paragraphs in either medium. What is surprising is what constitutes a “short” paragraph on the Web.
The Eyetrack researchers measured this way:
- Short paragraphs: one or two sentences long
- Medium paragraphs: up to six sentences long
- Long paragraphs: up to 18 sentences long
Bottom line: Online, hit return every paragraph or two.”