Why less is more when it comes to word counts, column widths, paragraph sizes and article lengths

Limitations usually improve, rather than hinder, whatever you create.

I learnt this when I first became an editor, back in the days of print. Because you could only fit so many words on a page – and because you would map out what stories go on what pages way before production started – a story would have to fit within a certain word count. If you could only fit 800 words but received a 1200-word article, it needed a serious cut.

People who are new to writing hate the idea of cutting, but a good editor knows it’s far more likely to lead to a better article. In addition to allowing you to cut anything that doesn’t make sense, or is redundant, or doesn’t genuinely add to the story – in other words, whatever shouldn’t have been in the article regardless of how long it’s supposed to be – it forces you to think, and rethink, how it should flow.

Then again, limitations have always been important to creativity.

Shakespeare worked wonders within the limitations of a sonnet; Tik Tok’s short video length forces creators to cut anything not essential (and yes, I’m also horrified I compared a TikTok video to a Shakespeare sonnet). One reason why Twitter was originally so easy to consume was the short tweets: and even though tweets are no longer limited to 140 characters, shorter tweets still tend to get more engagement.


How long should each line be?

In addition to word counts, you should also think about how the content visually appears.

Make sure you don’t have a whole line of text stretching across the screen. When it comes to usability, columns are far more readable than having a wide block of text. This also applies to print: but on screen it’s even more crucial.

80 characters per line is the maximum, according to The Web Accessibility Initiative (WCAG) guideline 1.4.8 – and usability tests show 50 to 75 characters usually work best.


Keep your paragraphs short

The vast majority of paragraphs I see online are far too big.

You should only have one point per paragraph. It might take a few sentences to make that point – but it might only take one.

You can tell a paragraph is too big if it has:

  • too many full stops
  • multiple commas
  • more than a few lines.

How many full stops or commas are too many? There are no hard and fast rules, but I can say that the shorter the paragraph is, the more likely it’ll be read.

Aim to only have one sentence per paragraph. However, if your sentences are short – as they are in this very paragraph you’re reading – then having two or even three sentences in a paragraph may not be the end of the world.



Become a better writer by taking the Writing Essentials online course

This fun, practical and easy to follow self-paced course will teach you how to:

  • write in the active voice
  • use positive language
  • cut copy
  • make your intros stronger
  • write in plain English
  • use the right tone of voice and style
  • write in the inverted pyramid style
  • know what makes a story interesting
  • frontload content
  • spot common grammar and punctuation mistakes
  • proofread your own work
  • write great headlines.

To keep things lively – and make sure you’ve absorbed what you’ve just learnt – there are also plenty of exercises throughout the course.

Equivalent to a full-day workshop, there are six sessions that each take between 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

Find out more and enrol


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