The other day, I received an email with a link to copyblogger.com from one of my friends at work. He’d sent it to those of us in the customer-facing side of the business, and the title of the email got me really excited: “We’re All Writers.”
The link I was directed to was a good resource. Titled 7 Ways to Improve Your Writing… Right Now, this particular post had a number of really helpful hints for drawing more readers and making your blog copy generally more accessible for the average reader. Among the things listed were the need for concise, clear writing; staying on topic; and watching your use of tone, all of which are great reminders for a writer in any written genre—I recommend checking it out.
I Don’t Know About That…
Here’s the part I had a hard time with: the writer recommends breaking up your paragraphs into chunks as small as possible, never to exceed three short sentences. Three sentences—that’s it? I was surprised to read it. Yes, sometimes that’s a great length for a paragraph—heck, sometimes one sentence is a good length for a paragraph—but it seems inhibiting to draw that kind of limitation.
“Make it easy for people to read your work,” the blogger writes to express the heart behind his position. “The easier it is, the more they’ll get your point and enjoy reading — and that’s what you want.”
I agree with his intent but disagree with his methodology. Making your writing accessible, clear, and enjoyable should be the name of the game for any writer—why else would you be writing? However, ease of read, clarity, and entertainment level are not inversely proportional to the number of sentences you use or the length of those sentences.
Quite to the contrary, I’d have to side with another writer I highly respect, who taught me to employ a wide variety of sentence and paragraph lengths. In his mind, we approach them as an artist does her brushes: each a different tool for a different job. Some express a sturdy meaning in a single stroke. Others tiptoe you from one thought to the next, coyly drawing you on until you’re following a choreography of wordplay that’s no longer a series of words at all, but a pirouetting string of images you freely and fancifully keep in step with. Each is designed to speak to the reader in a way specific to the needs of the content, synchronizing form and meaning. Used appropriately, varying lengths create an ebb and flow that does the subject matter justice while maintaining reader interest. This is the great joy and challenge of writing.
Now, this lesson was given in the context of a creative-writing course, where writing is treated as art, but I dare say the value of this advice is not limited to a novel or essay. If a long paragraph with complex sentences is what it takes to best communicate a point, a blogger should be as free as a novelist to write one, two, three—as many as it takes to convey the point well.
Nor is the value of variety limited to writers of a novel. I’d like to think that even casual blog-readers benefit from a writer able and willing to use a wide spectrum of written tools. Perhaps some readers really do just want strict information in a terse format—I must admit, bullet points are nice—but how many people accept short, lifeless writing just because they know nothing more? Bloggers, because their work is so universally available, have a unique opportunity to offer something deeper to a broad scope of readers.
The long and short of my argument is this: in any medium, quality should be the point for both writer and reader, not always brevity.
NOTE: Despite my disagreement on this point, I have a great deal of respect for the writer of copyblogger.com, his professional work, and his advice. Carry on bravely, copyblogger. Thanks for all your service to people like me!