Ideal Blog Post Length

Is there an optimal length for a blog post or an ideal depth?  Some posts around the blogosphere are surprisingly brief, perhaps a mere sentence noticing an article or book publication or other event, while others probe deeply through layers of challenging ideas requiring up to 4,000 words to feature.  Can posts be too short and snappy or too long and laborious?

When law journals were as old as blogs are today, review articles were pithy and short.  For example, the famous unsigned 1880 review of Langdell’s Contracts casebook (attributed to Holmes) ran 1,200 words in volume 14 of American Law Review, packed with punch and still valuable commentary on the case method of law teaching.   At the other extreme, an 1898 review of Keener’s Contracts casebook, appearing in volume 8 of Yale Law Journal, ran a mere 53 words, leaving the reader bereft.

True, articles ran much longer than the book reviews of late 19th and early 20th century legal literature, but still were limited to around 10,000 words apiece.  And that enabled covering vast subjects.   Over six generations, the average length bloated, with many pieces bursting to 50,000 words or more, before recently cut to around 25,000 words by some sensible law students.  Book reviews in law journals often still run that length, though 8,500 words is the cap set by the prudent editors of Michigan Law Review’s Annual Survey of Books.   

Posts here at Concurring Opinions average some 800 words, akin to old-fashioned print op-ed pieces, though no explicit policy rules and there are plenty much shorter (this one is 375 words).   Co-Op’s guidelines for its book review project suggest 1,000 as the ideal length of book reviews, noting that they may range from 500 to 2,000 words.  The same seems roughly the mode and norm at peer sites, including most of those listed on our Blogroll (scroll way down in the column to your right). 

But I detect some increase in the average length and broadening of the range.   Looking way into the distant future, imagine doing all reading and writing in this space.   Posts once as pithy as Holmes’s review of Langdell become longer than law review editor caps.   Yet even 53-word publications are possible.

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8 Responses

  1. I tried to exemplify an inordinately long blog post (over 7,000 words) here: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2011/01/natural-law-externalism-v-law-as-moral.html

    I know at least two individuals have read the entire piece!

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Patrick: High-wattage produce. Same is true of your comments on this blog. You set the standard.

  3. Frank says:

    Just as America’s poetic pantheon has room for the epigrammatic Dickinson and the expansive Whitman, the blogosphere takes in all perspectives.

    And you can always tldr.it!:

    http://answerguy.com/2010/12/17/too-long-didnt-read-tldrit/

  4. A.J. Sutter says:

    Through the centuries,
    epigrams were an art form.
    But quite dull to read.

  5. John Burgess says:

    For my own blog, I follow a general rule of brevity, with a few paragraphs on the front page and a ” link to open up extended text. I do this so that readers don’t have to click into second pages just to see the day’s output.

    More to the issue of readability, though, is line-length. Across printing regimes, a 60-64 character line is seen as optimal. It is ‘optimal’ in that the eye can scan the line without losing its place. Longer lines take longer to read and take more effort to read. An example of too-long lines would be Concurring Opinions.

  6. Jake says:

    Line-length is an important aspect of readability. Even more important is a decent font. Ban Arial.

  7. kenneth sims says:

    cue the “this blog post is too long”

  8. BPO Work says:

    When law journals were as old as blogs are today, review articles were pithy and short. For example, the famous unsigned 1880 review of Langdell’s Contracts casebook (attributed to Holmes) ran 1,200 words in volume 14 of American Law Review, packed with punch and still valuable commentary on the case method of law teaching. At the other extreme, an 1898 review of Keener’s Contracts casebook, appearing in volume 8 of Yale Law Journal, ran a mere 53 words, leaving the reader bereft.
    __________________
    jitu