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The Magic Number

By Bob Osgoodby
Posted Sunday, January 16, 2005

Having published a Newsletter for over 6 years we've learned a few "tricks". Probably the most important one is that people want to get their information as quickly as possible. They are not willing to wade through tomes of information, no matter how well written, to get the ideas presented in the article.

If two identical newsletters are published, except one has a rather long article, and the other has a condensed version of the same article, there will be a disproportionate number of "unsubscribes" from the first, and few, if any, from the second. This has got to tell us all something.

The magic number, we have found, is 750 words or less.

Personally, I try to keep all the articles I write (and publish in our Newsletters) under that magic number. If I let my fingers get away from me, and have exceeded that magic number, I take a long hard look at the article. Nine times out of ten, it can either be shortened or made into two articles.

Most modern word processors have a word count feature. As you are developing your article, if you check this on a regular basis, you can achieve the desired size without having to go back and rewrite it.

The second, and equally important "trick" is to word wrap at 65 characters per line. If you don't, people may receive your article in a format that is very difficult to read. Many mail packages default to 65 characters per line, while others default to a higher number.

If they receive an email that is wrapped at 80 characters, and they are set for 65, they will get 65 characters on the first line and 15 on the next. The entire article will be presented like this - very distracting.

Almost all mail clients (readers) will display 65 characters per line correctly. There is also less eye movement required using the shorter line, making it easier to read. If this is the case, why would anyone consider using a longer line.

If you do not have a sophisticated word processor, "Word Pad" will serve the purpose. First - set your margins using "Page Setup" under the "Files" Tab to .25 inches on the left and 1.5 inches on the right. Select the "Courier New (Western)" font with a font size of 12. This will give you exactly 65 characters per line. Other margins and font sizes will work, but be sure you are getting the correct number of characters per line.

Now, you can estimate your word count. Figure an average of 9 words per line. There will be short lines and blank lines between paragraphs. If your article is around 80 lines long or less, you should be in the ballpark. This article, for example is 56 lines. The actual word count is 506 - close enough? You may vary a bit on the actual count, but at least you'll have an idea of the length of the article and be close to that "magic number".

About the Author
Bob publishes the free weekly "Your Business" Newsletter Visit his Web Site at ( to subscribe.


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