Word Count Matters: What Writers Can Learn from Twitter’s Move to 280 Characters

word count

After teasing and beta-testing for a few weeks, Twitter made the official move to 280 characters for all users in early November. Suddenly, the entire Twittersphere had double the character count, but many users were less than grateful for the change.

J.K. Rowling said she thought the platform had ruined itself. In a tweet that rang in at exactly 140 characters, Rowling said she thought the point of Twitter had always been “how inventive people could be” within the framework. Authors, including award-winners and bestsellers such as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, shared Rowling’s sentiments via retweets and their own comments, and they weren’t alone. Plenty of users, well-known and otherwise, seemed to think Twitter was doomed. Many people also clearly wanted an edit button much more than an expanded character count.

[ctt template=”4″ link=”1ddfe” via=”no” nofollow=”yes”]Is 280 characters going to kill #Twitter? Here’s what we think. [/ctt]

Did 280 Characters Kill Twitter?

Less than a month later, the platform still seems to be going strong. The longer character count isn’t as poisonous as everyone feared, but it’s also apparent that it wasn’t 100 percent needed. I’m drawing that conclusion based on what I’ve seen people doing with the 280 characters, including:

  • Sharing long quotes from books in a single tweet (one person thread-tweeted an entire chapter from a famous book)
  • Repeating themselves within the same tweet or using a lot of words to say what a few would convey well
  • Filling up 200ish characters with nonsense to conclude with a variation of “Oh, yay! I have 280!”

It’s clear that 99 percent of the time, a bit of inventiveness and some editing would have fit the same message into 140 characters.

On the other hand, there were times when the 140-character limitation made it impossible to conveniently and accurately convey information. This can’t be denied, even by those who love the platform’s brevity.

[ctt template=”4″ link=”c620P” via=”yes” nofollow=”yes”]When writing, choose clarity over brevity. #content[/ctt]

What Can Writers and Editors Learn?

Here are a few relevant tips and lessons freelancers can draw from the Twitter update.

1. Less is often more.

The cliche isn’t any less true because you’ve heard it often. Yes, long-form content (such as blog posts ranging from 800 to 2,000 words) performs well in the search engines. But that doesn’t mean you say the same thing with more words — that content performs well because it’s perceived as valuable. It provides more with more words.

If you can provide the same information in a powerful, clear way with less words, that’s usually better. Which means when a client orders 500 to 700 words, you shouldn’t automatically force 700 words — even if you get paid more money the more you write.

Writing powerfully rather than fluffily helps you impress the client and hone your own skills, which could mean more and higher paying work in the future.

2. Write for clarity, not just brevity.

Clarity is more important than brevity or a high word count. Use the words you need (within the client’s requirements) to get the job done right. And if the client asks you to do more than can be done within the word count, don’t be afraid to talk to them about raising the stakes. Just remember: 99 percent of Tweets were doing great at the 140-character length, so make sure you really do need the extra room for the message. Rewording, revising and reformatting can often bring the word count down substantially without losing any information.

3. A good edit never hurt anyone.

Coming in at the perfect word count means nothing if you’ve splattered the piece with typos or grammatical errors. Always remember to proof your own work for little errors and to ensure you’ve written clear, powerful sentences.

Twitter might not have an edit function yet, but as a freelancer, it’s one of your most powerful tools.


Sarah Stasik

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Sarah is an experienced writer and copyeditor with a background in project management. She’s Six Sigma Black Belt certified and leverages her knowledge of statistical analysis, process improvement and content marketing to help clients engage audiences and increase conversions.

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