Seven Hundred Words

by Frank Paynter on April 26, 2006

Our daily fishwrap limits guest op-ed pieces to seven hundred words. A writer should be able to pump out seven hundred words about anything. If he’s a good writer, his seven hundred words might even make sense. An eloquent writer will just be getting cranked up by the time he hits the limit. I’ve noticed that bloggers seldom approach seven hundred words. Take Kevin Drum. Kevin seemed like a good bet in this regard because he’s so very op-eddish in what he does. But today’s “Immigration Update” - less than five hundred words including a passle of adverbs and a long quote from Mickey Kaus. Most of what Kevin posts (”most” by number of posts and by volume of text within the posts) is way short of seven hundred words.

When Kevin gets cranked up though, he’s liable to go for twice the magic number. His recent rebound regarding net neutrality is a case in point. At first he gave it the typical Political Animal treatment, three hundred words amounting to “Duh, I don’t get it.” But to his credit he dug deeper, presented a balanced review of the pro and the con, and came down in favor of net neutrality regulation and government subsidy to support the regulated environment. I liked his answer, even if it did exceed double the seven hundred word limit on a daily fishwrap op-ed.

The generic blog-post is telegraphic. A post is a signifier comprising a few words, a link or two, and maybe some graphics melded to convey a little meaning and to influence the visitor’s perception one way or another. I like to add a little slide whistle audio just for that Spike Jones effect. Some prefer the end blown fipple flute.

Writing is for readers, and genres provide a nice filter. But there are plenty of prolix bloggers and the “blog-post equals short mixed media presentation” equation isn’t always true. Consider Mike Golby, Shelley Powers, or Kathy Sierra. Kathy seems quite intentional, hitting that sweet spot of rational discourse between six and eight hundred words consistently. Mike is given to passionate expository excess. His posts are over when they’re over, and that’s when he has wrung all the feeling from them and set armies marching from both ends of the Nile with secret goals and deadly intentions. Shelley strikes a balance between these two I think. She prepares her work quite intentionally, and she taps a vein of pure golden emotion and feeling while she does so. I am doubtful that any of these three can be counted as a fipple virtuoso however.

The lengthy composition, the academic op-ed that may run to 1500 words is usually larded with adverbs and adjectives, qualifiers that if elided would pull the verbiage back toward that magic number. Consider Alex Golub, once a quotidian blogger of nicely short posts, a fanfic boy of the lowest order, and a serial novelist. Now that he has sunk into the welcoming arms of academia, now that he is sucking as it were at the hind-tit of the great mother of all knowledge, now that he has reconstructed himself by hauling his surf board to Waikiki and settling into an adjunct position, we find him writing involutional anthropology of the type Meg Mead would have been proud to pierce her navel to write. Rex has always immersed himself in the cultures he studies, be they the cannibals of PNG, the bloggers of Hyde Park, or the undergrads of Manoa. Even after reading Alex’s recent piece in Inside Higher Ed, one remains puzzled regarding whether or not “reading Kierkegaard’s analysis of the sacrifice of Isaac through a Derridean lens could help explain nationalism in Indonesia.”

What magic is there in seven hundred words and why should we be so limited? The guest writer in the daily rag is doing it for a cause, world peace in seven hundred words. The anal compulsive para-professional boomlet organizer of Web 2.0 phantasmagoria does it because she really knows no better.

As for me, I think I will attempt it here for the discipline. If Jeneane can run her thirty posts in thirty minutes sprints, then I can be permitted the occasional op-ed.

{ 3 comments }

Charles Follymacher 04.27.06 at 1:07

Damn my anal hide: my Word for Mac app counted 702 words, but it’s an excellent post nonetheless.

Frank Paynter 04.27.06 at 6:21

Thank you for counting, Charles. I took a quick look and saw the phrase “I think.” There’s no place for that redundancy in there so consider it deleted!

bmo 04.30.06 at 10:32

Indeed. Bravo. I agree. I disagree. I am incensed and perturped and flummoxed.

Keep in mind the trick of the seven hundred word op ed piece is to say nothing while appearing to say much. Here, with this first attempt, you’ve failed miserably.

You have have tapped the NeoScruggsian vein on firt pull. Still, you will need an ad of some sort to wrap around, for context.

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