Proper Word Count For Essays On Love

UPDATE: See a newer, updated version of this post with a brand-new infographic.

Every so often when I’m tweeting or emailing, I’ll think: Should I really be writing so much?

I tend to get carried away. And for the times that I do, it sure would be nice to know if all this extra typing is hurting or helping my cause. I want to stand out on social media, but I want to do it in the right way.

Curious, I dug around and found some answers for the ideal lengths of tweets and titles and everything in between. Many of these could have been answered with “it depends,” but where’s the fun in that? Solid research exists to show the value of writing, tweeting, and posting at certain lengths. We can learn a lot from scientific social media guidelines like these. Here’s the best of what I found.

The ideal length of a tweet is 100 characters

Whom should you trust when it comes to advice on the ideal length of a tweet? How about Twitter itself?

Twitter’s best practices reference research by Buddy Media about tweet length: 100 characters is the engagement sweet spot for a tweet. 

Creativity loves constraints and simplicity is at our core. Tweets are limited to 140 characters so they can be consumed easily anywhere, even via mobile text messages. There’s no magical length for a Tweet, but a recent report by Buddy Media revealed that Tweets shorter than 100 characters get a 17% higher engagement rate.

The Buddy Media research falls in line with similar research by Track Social in a study of 100 well-known brands that are popular on Twitter. Track Social also found that the perfect Tweet length was right around 100 characters.

Their analysis saw a spike in retweets among those in the 71-100 character range—so-called “medium” length tweets. These medium tweets have enough characters for the original poster to say something of value and for the person retweeting to add commentary as well.

The ideal length of a Facebook post is less than 40 characters

Forty characters is not much at all. (The sentence I just wrote is 35 characters.)

But 40 is the magic number that Jeff Bullas found was most effective in his study of retail brands on Facebook. He measured engagement of posts, defined by “like” rate and comment rate, and the ultra-short 40-character posts received 86 percent higher engagement than others.

The 40-character group also represented the smallest statistical set in the study (only 5 percent of all posts qualified at this length), so best practices on Facebook also include the next most popular set: Posts with 80 characters or fewer received 66 percent higher engagement.

Many different studies over the years have confirmed that shorter posts are better on Facebook. One such study by BlitzLocal looked at nearly 120 billion Facebook impressions and found that performance tailed off as posts grew longer. Their particular data found significant advantages to question posts between 100 to 119 characters.

The ideal length of a Google+ headline is less than 60 characters

To maximize the readability and appearance of your posts on Google+, you may want to keep your text on one line. Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger studied the Google+ breaking point and found that headlines should not exceed 60 characters.

Here is an example of what we mean. The post below had a headline exceeding 60 characters and got bumped.

This post kept the title within 60 characters and stayed on one line.

Demian’s advice goes even deeper. If your Google+ headline simply can’t be contained in one line, then you can turn to Plan B. Write a superb first sentence.

In the last update, Google changed the layout of posts so that you only see three lines of the original post before you see “Read more” link. In other words, your first sentence has to be a gripping teaser to get people to click “Read More.”

Here is Demian’s killer example:

In terms of overall post length, Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research. Digging further, Quintly found the largest spike in engagement at posts of 5 characters in length and the second-highest spike in posts of 442 characters. Takeaway: You can write a lot longer on Google+ and still find great results.

The ideal length of a headline is 6 words

How much of the headline for this story did you read before you clicked?

According to a post by KISSmetrics, you might not have read it all.

Writing for KISSmetrics, headline expert Bnonn cites usability research revealing we don’t only scan body copy, we also scan headlines. As such, we tend to absorb only the first three words and the last three words of a headline. If you want to maximize the chance that your entire headline gets read, keep your headline to six words.

Of course, six-word headlines are rare (and hard to write!). If you can’t cut your title down to six words, you can still be aware of how your headline might be read, and you can adjust accordingly. As the KISSmetrics post says:

Of course, that’s seldom enough to tilt the specificity-meter into the red. And I have it on good authority that some of the highest-converting headlines on the web are as long as 30 words. As a rule, if it won’t fit in a tweet it’s too long. But let me suggest that rather than worrying about length you should worry about making every word count. Especially the first and last 3.

 

The ideal length of a blog post is 7 minutes, 1,600 words

When measuring the content that performs best on their site, Medium focuses not on clicks but on attention. How long do readers stick with an article?

In this sense, an ideal blog post would be one that people read. And Medium’s research on this front says that the ideal blog post is seven minutes long.

To arrive at this number, Medium measured the average total seconds spent on each post and compared this to the post length. All Medium posts are marked with a time signature for how long the read should be. After adjusting their analysis for a glut of shorter posts (overall, 74% of posts are under 3 minutes long and 94% are under 6 minutes long), they came to their conclusion:

And there we have it: the average total seconds rises for longer posts, peaks at 7 minutes, and then declines.

And in terms of word count, a 7-minute read comes in around 1,600 words.

(A photo-heavy post could bring the average down closer to 1,000. Medium’s seven-minute story on ideal post length was filled with images and graphs and contained 980 words.)

SerpIQ examined the question of ideal post length from an SEO perspective. They looked at the top 10 results on search results pages and counted the words in each article. Their data included text in the sidebars of posts, so you can knock a few words off of the totals below.

Of course, as with any of these ideal lengths, the answers you find here could very well be taken as “it depends,” since research varies from site to site. For instance, Moz found that longer posts on their blog get linked to more often, and Upworthy found little correlation between length and attention when they tested Medium’s hypothesis for themselves. (Upworthy cited factors like type of posts and audience as a couple of possible explanations for the discrepancy.)

Perhaps the best takeaway here is this, borrowed from the conclusion of Medium’s study:

What it does mean is that it’s worth writing however much you really need. Don’t feel constrained by presumed short attention spans. If you put in the effort, so will your audience.

The ideal width of a paragraph is 40-55 characters

I know, I know. Width and length aren’t the same thing, but I just couldn’t resist this interesting take. Social media expert Derek Halpern found that there are a pair of very important, underlying factors that go into the width of your content:

  • Content width can give the appearance of simplicity or complexity
  • Content width is key to maximizing reader comprehension

The ideal paragraph length, in this sense, would appear simple to the reader and allow for easy reading. Halpern believes he found the window where this happens.

The problem is, to ensure maximum comprehension and the appearance of simplicity, the perfect line length ranges between 40 and 55 characters per line, or in other words, a content column that varies between 250-350 pixels wide (it depends on font size and choice).

Forty and 55 characters per line means about 8 to 11 words. If you’re viewing the Buffer blog in a desktop browser, you’re likely seeing up to 20 words per line. Whoops!

You may have noticed many sites online that have a different font for their lead paragraph than they do for the remainder of their text. Would you believe there is psychology at play here? Consider that shorter lines appear as less work for the reader; they make it easier to focus and to jump quickly from one line to the next. Opening paragraphs with larger fonts—and therefore fewer characters per line—are like a a running start to reading a piece of content. This style gets readers  hooked with an easy-to-read opening paragraph, then you can adjust the line width from there.

Here’s an example from Smashing Magazine:

The ideal length of an email subject line is 28-39 characters

In September 2012, MailChimp published the following headline on its blog: Subject Line Length Means Absolutely Nothing. This was quite the authoritative statement, but MailChimp had the data to back it up.

Their research found no significant advantage to short or long subject lines in emails. Clicks and opens were largely the same.

By this token, you are likely to be okay writing an email of any length (and always better off being specific and helpful with the subject you write, regardless of how many words you use). That being said, other research hints at a sweet spot: 28-39 characters.

A study released by Mailer Mailer around the same time as MailChimp’s study found a slight bump in opens and clicks at a certain range of characters. Here is their analysis:

  • 4–15 characters: 15.2% open; 3.1% click
  • 16–27 characters: 11.6% open; 3.8% click
  • 28–39 characters: 12.2% open; 4% click
  • 40–50 characters: 11.9% open; 2.8% click
  • 51+ characters: 10.4% open; 1.8% click

The stat is one of the few of its kind to show a demonstrative (but not overwhelming) difference in subject line lengths. Litmus referenced this study in their popular subject line infographic. If there were ever to be a recommended length for a subject based on research, this would be it.

Beyond the perfect length, you can also adhere to best practices. In general, a 50-character maximum is recommended, although MailChimp does point out that there can be exceptions:

The general rule of thumb in email marketing is to keep your subject line to 50 characters or less. Our analysis found this to generally be the rule. The exception was for highly targeted audiences, where the reader apparently appreciated the additional information in the subject line.

At Buffer, we tend toward the upper threshold of the 50-character limit and often go beyond.

Of course, you can always just learn from those who do it best and those who do it worst. In MailChimp’s studies they came across some especially high performers—and some low performers.

 

The ideal length of a presentation is 18 minutes

Organizers of TED have found that 18 minutes is the ideal length of a presentation, and so all presenters—including Bill Gates and Bono—are required to come in under this mark.

The science behind this 18-minute mark comes from studies of attention spans. Scientists seem to agree on a range of 10 to 18 minutes for how long most people can pay attention before they check out. The physiological reason behind this is that new information must be processed by the brain, resulting in a huge use of glucose, oxygen, and blood flow as brain neurons fire and burn energy. This loss of energy leads to fatigue.

Carmine Gallo, writing on LinkedIn, pointed to even more scientific research at the root of this attention-time phenomenon. Gallo wrote of Dr. Paul King of Texas Christian University who likens the act of listening and absorbing information to lifting weights: The more we are asked to take in, the heavier and heavier the load gets. Eventually, we can’t hold the weight anymore, and we drop it all – or forget it all.

King tested this on graduate students, observing that those who went to class three days a week for 50 minutes recalled more information than those who went to class one day a week for three hours.

Science is a nice reason to put a limit on presentations, but if you’re sharing yours online or looking for virality, there could be other important factors, too. Here is what TED curator Chris Anderson thinks:

It [18 minutes] is the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. … It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

The ideal length of a title tag is 55 characters

Title tags are the bits of text that define your page on a search results page. Brick-and-mortar stores have business names; your web page has a title tag.

Recent changes to the design of Google’s results pages mean that the maximum length for titles is around 60 characters. If your title exceeds 60 characters, it will get truncated with an ellipse. The design change can be seen below where a formerly ideal title has now been truncated.

Finding a hard-and-fast rule for the maximum recommendation of a title tag isn’t as easy as you’d think. Quick typography lesson: Google uses Arial for the titles on its results pages, Arial is a proportionally-spaced font, meaning that different letters take up different width. A lowercase “i” is going to be narrower than a lowercase “w.” Therefore, the actual letters in your title will change the maximum allowable characters that can fit on one line.

Moz dug deep to see where exactly this maximum character limit surfaced for truncated titles. They found that 55 characters seemed to be the breaking point as a general rule.

The ideal length of a domain name is 8 characters

This one may not apply to all of you, but if you’re trying to name your startup it’s a useful find. According to Daily Blog Tips, these are the characteristics of a good domain name:

  1. It is short
  2. It is easy to remember
  3. It is easy to spell
  4. It is descriptive or brandable
  5. It does not contain hyphens and numbers
  6. It has a .com extension

Daily Blog Tips also found the ideal length. They ran an Alexa report that looked at the domains for the top 250 websites. The results: Over 70 percent of the sites had domain names of 8 characters or less, and the average number of characters per domain was just over 7.

Recap

For the tl;dr version of this article on ideal length, here’s a graphic that encompasses all the guidelines mentioned above.

What lengths have you found work best for you? I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Image credits: fstoaldo, Orbit media, Track Social, Jeff Bullas, BlitzLocal, Copyblogger, Medium, SerpIQ, MailChimp, Moz, Daily Blog Tips.

After sharing the name for five years, I figured it was time to write about word count – not about this blog, but the number of words in a story.

You’re probably asking yourself, what’s there to know? You write your story and the little tool built into Word shows you at the bottom of the screen how many words it includes.

If only it were that simple.

It’s true that the days are gone of estimating how much you’d written by counting the words in a couple lines of type and then multiplying that by the total lines on the page or pages. I’m sure I’m showing my age by even admitting I know how to do that.

Built-in counters like the one in Word takes the guess work out of measuring word counts.

But there’s a lot more to word counts than that, including what acceptable margins are for going over or under the word count given for an assignment, and what to do if you miss your target length. Read on for more about this writing and freelancing basic.

Word count tools

If you don’t like the word counter that comes with Word, there are others. Some word-counter tools include:

  • Word Count Tool– Copy and paste your text into a box on this free, cloud-based tool to see how much you’ve written. Counts words that are entirely alphabetically and words that contain letters and numbers. Doesn’t count words that start with apostrophes, hyphens or numbers. Handy for any writing you might be doing in a non-Word program or if you’re working on a mobile devices.
  • Word Counter – Another copy and paste word-count tool. This one will also displays the top 10 keywords and keyword density of whatever you’re writing – a good thing if you’re doing SEO work.
  • WordCalc – This tool counts syllables as well as words, something that anyone writing or studying poetry would appreciate.
  • Cut and paste word counter – A Java script you can add to your website or blog to count words in a paragraph or other text.

What else to know about word counts

There’s a lot more to know about word counts than the sum total of the words you’re using.

Let’s look at some questions writers ask related to word counts:

How much can a word count be over or under and still be considered on target?

My general rule of thumb is you’re OK if you turn in an article with 5 percent fewer words to 5 percent more words than assigned. For a 500-word story, that would be 475 words to 525 words. For a 1,000-word story, that would be 950 words to 1,050 words. For a 3,000-word article, it would be 2,850 to 3, 150 words.

If you’re not sure, ask your editor. They may have their own rule of thumb on what constitutes hitting the word count.

But face it, it’s really easy to write over – at leas it is for me. So that brings up more questions.

If a story runs long, what’s better, letting an editor trim a long story, or trimming it yourself?

Always, always take the first stab at trimming a story yourself. Turning in 1,300 words for an assignment that called for 1,000 might not seem like a big deal to you. But if your editor has five 1,000-word assignments come in and they all are over by 300 words, it’s going to take a lot of extra work for him or her to trim all of them down to size while retaining all the key elements. And would you rather have an overworked editor who’s frustrated by having to make cuts to five stories in one day make trims to your well-constructed story or do it yourself?

If you trim a too-long story yourself, what’s the best way to cut?

There are a few different ways to trim a story that’s over the word count:

  • Go through line by line and tighten up the language.
  • Look at the lead: if it’s a short assignment and you used an anecdotal or “hook” style lead, is it necessary? Could you delete it and use the nut graph as the lead without changing the impact?
  • Have you used too many quotes? In short stories – and even in long ones – quotes can take up a lot of precious space. Use them sparingly, and paraphrase instead.
  • Do you have one example too many? Anecdotes and examples add color, but they also add length. As much as you love all your sources, if the piece is running long, you may need to ax one or more.
  • Here are some more suggestions: A few words about writing short.

What if you’re not sure what to trim?

If you’re unsure of what’s expendable, use brackets (as in the image at the top of this post), or Word’s Comments feature to show your editor the part or parts of an article that you would consider optional. That gives them the opportunity to read the entire story and decide for themselves if they agree with your trims or prefer to cut something else.

What if an assignment calls for 500 words and there’s no way to cover all the material the editor wants in that space?

Don’t wait until you’re filing a story to let your editor know you had trouble with the word count. Give them a heads up as soon as you realize there may be a problem. That could lead to a phone call or email exchange where you can discuss the situation in more detail. Perhaps it’s a matter of pinning down the premise of a story more precisely, which could help establish exactly what to keep and what to toss. Perhaps after hearing more about the information you’ve uncovered, your editor will OK going over the original word count. Or maybe they’ll assign a sidebar to handle some of the additional details. If you’re writing for a print publication – not as common these days – the amount of space for your story could have changed between the time it was assigned and time you’re talking, and that could affect the word count. Regardless of the situation, err in favor on contacting your editor sooner rather than later.

What if you don’t have enough to say to fill the entire word count?

This isn’t something that happens to me often (see above). But my guess is if you’re running out of words before you run out of word count, it’s because you haven’t thoroughly investigated the topic. Look back over your reporting and research: did you talk to enough sources? Did you get enough detail from the sources you talked to? Is there an avenue of the subject you could have delved into in more depth? Chances are the answer to one or more of those is “Yes” and by doing a little more digging you can come up with the additional information you need to finish the assignment.

Got a burning word count question, or have a secret for trimming extra words from a story? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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