For years, I’ve been preaching on behalf of the shorter article … even in my print days.
In a world dominated by CNN Headline News, breakfast-, lunch- and dinner-on-the-go, overnight deliveries and promises of miraculously fast weight loss, it’s obvious we’ve become a culture accustomed to instant gratification.
Who has time to read a 1,000-word article? Especially on the Internet, which is notorious for attracting millions of “browsers?”
So why did I pause when a journalism student recently asked about the need to edit down his lengthy articles? Just after giving him my spiel about the need to grab readers fast and keeping their attention by writing succinctly, the face of Marge Schott popped into my mind.
And then I quickly told the student, “There are exceptions.” Yes, there are always exceptions.
What are the exceptions?
For me, there is an article about Schott that is an unforgettable exception to that rule. Of course, there are many others. Wikipedia is the master of this art, which consistently pays off with a stream of No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 rankings in search engine results for just about any generic search term.
But back to that article about Schott, the late eccentric owner of the Cincinnati Reds. Written in 1996 by Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, it’s like an exceptionally good movie. You feel compelled to read it again and again. And apparently millions of people have. If you type in the words “Marge Schott” in a Google search, the SI article comes up second in rankings … just behind Wikipedia.
Think about it: A 15-year-old article written two years before Google was even incorporated lands into the No. 2 spot for the relevant keyword Marge Schott.
Yes. It’s that good.
And it’s really long. It takes up 13 pages of the Sports Illustrated Vault website. At about 500 words for each page, that’s about 6,500 words.
Take a cue from SI’s Reilly and Wikipedia by investing the time to produce at least one extensive article that captures your audience by being well-researched, authoritative and worthy of their attention. Take the time to go deep. Not only does it give you the potential to boost your rankings, it can establish you as a knowledgeable leader in your industry.
Consider these 5 steps on your way to creating a 1,000-word (or more) masterpiece:
1. Examine your audience.
Who is the target audience that will be reading your article? Is there a topic that warrants an in-depth analysis? Do you have a technical audience that would enjoy getting into the nitty gritty of your topic? Or an audience that has a keen interest in a subject and would invest the time to read a well-written article? What types of questions might they ask about the subject? Why would they be interested in reading an extensive piece on your subject? Use this strategy to narrow your focus.
2. Research your topic.
Go beyond the obvious. Examine numerous angles of your topic. Take the time to research its history, projections for its future, key participants, locations of major related events, etc. Dig deep to find information that may not be familiar to your reader. Don’t skimp on this step. Imagine yourself back in high school or college when you had to extensively research a topic. Give it that type of attention and more. Give the reader plenty of details.
3. Divide your content into different sections.
This will make your article more manageable to write. Take a look at Wikipedia for reference. In most cases, you will see that the subject is divided by topics. Wikipedia, for example, divides its article on Marge Schott into the following categories: Early life and career; Owner of the Reds; Controversy; Death; In popular culture; References.
4. Avoid repetition.
Face it. Most stories aren’t worth 1,000 words or more. If you find yourself trying to stretch your story with fluff – repetitive or insignificant content — just to hit the 1,000-word mark, make sure your topic is worthy of this type of attention. Check out Wikipedia for reference. Schott, with all her eccentric habits and her notoriously bad behavior, obviously was a subject that warranted a lengthier article. If you’re finding that your subject doesn’t really measure up, keep it in the 500- to 600-word range, and move on to a worthier topic.
5. Solicit the help of multiple editors.
While it’s always wise to get someone to read over any of your articles, it’s especially important when you’re producing a piece that claims to be authoritative on a subject. Besides checking for grammar mistakes and thoroughness, have several people triple check your facts to ensure they are accurate. Make sure you also edit yourself before posting the final piece.
OK. This blog is about 800 words at this point. I could shoot for another 200 just to hit the 1,000 mark, but what would that prove? Nothing. And you could use that time to start working on your own Wikipedia worthy piece. Get going. It would be nice to see a few more “exceptions” out there on the World Wide Web.