When hiring report writers, it’s tempting to think that the more words you ask for, the more comprehensive the resulting piece will be. In truth, asking for twice the words you need is a great way to ensure very light, fluffy content. Light and fluffy is great when you’re making cotton candy, not so desirable when you’re developing content.
The key to optimization is reduction. If you’re working with good writers, it will take them 500 words to say what another might not be able to explain with fewer than 1,500.
To some extent, only experience will tell you where your wordcount needs to be. Too high, and writers will need to pad the content out in order to reach the minimum requirements. Too low, and a writer may wind up leaving something important out because there simply wasn’t space for it. Every subject and format is different, but in general, anywhere from 400-600 words is a fair average across most content types and subjects. There are exceptions, of course. A 600 word user’s manual won’t be of much use to anyone, while 400 words is far too many for the average Facebook post.
The wiggle room where the little dash is in between the minimum and maximum wordcount means that you can trust your writer’s instincts. They’ll usually know when they’ve said what must be said, and when to move on. Allowing 100-200 extra words above the minimum means that you won’t have to worry about it so much as a client: you hire them for their writing abilities, and one of those abilities happens to be knowing how many words will be required to get your message across. The more assignments you commission, the better an idea you’ll get for how long your content should be, well, many of your writers have written thousands upon thousands of assignments, so they’ll know better than anyone.
The biggest upside to keeping your wordcounts on the smallish side is that brevity truly is the soul not only of wit, but of quality writing in general. What’s more insufferable than a joke that comes in the form of a story that takes five minutes to tell? Are most people willing to read through 2,000-page novels, or do they prefer them to be just long enough to read the first half on an airplane trip to their destination, and the second half on the way back home?
Good, readable, quality content should be dense, and to the point. Use fewer words, and you’ll double the value of every one of them.
Gilbert S is a writer and artist who lives in New Mexico with his wife, and his dog, Sir Kay.