Is Long Form Writing Dead? Wait, Not So Fast

Picture 1Earlier this week I ran across some interesting (early) findings on a possible link between long-form writing and improved engagement. Here’s the story from Fast Company’s FastCoLabs. As Chris Dannen points out, it is strikingly evident that something is going on to keep readers engaged longer. The editors believe the likely driver is  super long stories. Despite caution, Dannen notes this seems to be “a trend is so big and consistent that it’s impossible not to engage in a little educated speculation.”

We all know and likely agree a well-crafted, clever, clear or relevant written piece is preferred over a poorly written, unorganized or pointless story – regardless of length. Fast Company’s post got me thinking that not every communications missive must follow the accepted rule that less is more or that people just simply won’t read anything longer than a few paragraphs. I realized that finding the right balance is key.

Fast Company’s longer stories experiment certainly raises a few questions, as we move toward a more concise communications environment. Yet a world dominated by mobile devices, 140-character posts, and visual and video communications mediums (not to mention untold content strategists calling for less) — all calling for less– but that shouldn’t dictate that every written piece be short. Clearly, with the art of storytelling, there’s more space for more. (Interestingly, Facebook just upped its status update limit to more than 63,000 characters – nine updates would roughly be equivalent to an average novel.)

First, the discussion over short vs long clearly isn’t over. I’ve seen a few reports and studies that suggest not all people prefer less. ExactTarget recently published an interesting post with evidence that more and less can coexist in our writing world. So, there’s clear evidence that certain segments of the population actually demand more – more information, more research, and more details than can be conveyed in a short tease. As we go through our day, we want short bursts of information at some points and demand more lengthy details at others.

A really sound content marketing strategist I know, Robert Rose, penned a great piece for Content Marketing Institute that talks about the value of being “distinctively remarkable.” I think that’s a great point – as a journalist I was taught the “Keep It Simple” method but “don’t leave anything important out.” That still applies today as we work to understand what our audience needs and finds valuable.

Second, Fast Company’s experiment calls for more digging. We need to know exactly who demands more and who prefers less, since obviously one size of writing doesn’t fit all. What’s encouraging to me is the research should reveal opportunities for communications pros to deliver content accordingly. By keeping the reader’s needs in mind we can deliver relevancy and value – and those elements certainly can encourage greater connection and engagement. Great content is a goal. Dove’s superb storytelling in this YouTube video delivered compelling results (No. 1 shared video in April 2013).

Maybe the demise of longer form writing was greatly exaggerated… we’ll have to check back later with Fast Company to see if their initial results continue to drive site traffic or if the boost in reader engagement was a short-term fad.

* If you want some great tips for crafting better writing, check out this Social Media Examiner post or see what MarketingSherpa has to say on the topic of better blogs.


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