How Long Should An Article Be – 2 October 2016

I always have great admiration for the columnists who have their daily pieces printed in newspapers. They all need to meet deadlines which requires great discipline, determination and motivation. I have talked to one or two people and asked what made them tick. Naturally, they won’t share their trade secrets so readily; and besides I don’t believe there is one formula for all. There is this guy for example who runs a column every two weeks. He sometimes writes an article as soon as his last one was published, but would find that the topic becomes irrelevant in a fortnight, so that he needs to give the editor another one nearer the time.

The one period I wrote regularly was when I was editor of Kingspark News, the weekly magazine of the club I founded. I had to make sure I finished writing and editing at least two A4 pages of materials by Sunday night, consisting mainly of an editorial which I wrote myself and a summary of the meeting the week before for which I did not get any help from any members most of the time. I would then put the finished copy on Winfax and let the computer work all night sending copies to all readers in the district so that most members would be able to read the bulletin first thing in the week. Somehow, there were stresses, but it was a lot of fun and I had enjoyed the process.

Some years back, when I was Chairman of the HKU Masters of Buddhist Studies Alumni Association, I was asked to contribute an article a month for the only local English language daily. But when I left the chair two months into the scheme, my successor had questions on the sustainability of the scheme and I stopped writing. When I was writing my Letters series, I tended to meander and sometimes covered a few topics in each article. The more polite readers would tell me that they found my articles very interesting and colourful, while others would simply say that they were too long. I had not given myself any deadline for my letters series: sometimes I wrote three in a week, while at times, it could be six to eight months between two articles. As I said on my website, I tend to write when I am travelling.

The other question I ask myself is how long an article should be, to which I quickly reply with another question, how long is a piece of string. Anyway, I picked up my daily newspaper, went to my favourite daily column and counted about 450 to 500 words in each, which compares with 1,000 to 1,200 words for my Buddhism articles, or about 3,000 words for an average assignment when I was reading my Masters.

So, I would go for keeping an article to about 500 words, and see whether I would have a following.

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