The Benefits of Reading More Selectively



Photo by Cory Doctorow, Flickr

Do you prefer to read short articles or long ones? Which do you value more? These are questions I’ve wondered about since I began blogging. Almost unavoidably, I keep writing looong articles!

As you surely know already, I write about theology. This is serious “stuff” since it deals with matters of eternal significance. Thus, I feel responsible for thoroughly covering each topic that I write about while being sensitive to what readers may believe.

The most frustrating thing about it is that once I choose a topic, I never know for certain how much content I’ll have to write. My job is to study the topic and write as much as I need to in order to cover it. This includes all the essential points, along with responses to possible questions.

The problem, in terms of time and other expenses, is compounded if the article does turn out to be a lengthy one. Any experienced writer will tell you that a long article takes much longer to write than a short one. For example, I’m planning to knock this article out in only an hour or two because I only have a few points to make. On the other hand, a long article can take up to a week of writing. Undoubtedly, an article that takes 40 hours or more to write will not be 40 times as long as the one that only takes one hour!

Here’s why a longer article can take much, much longer to write:

  • It’s easy to repeat oneself, but repetitions must be found and eliminated—except for deliberate repetitions intended to emphasize the most important points.
  • It’s difficult to organize a large number of thoughts and ideas. The outline must be formulated and material rearranged in process, unless research and outlining is done first. Either way, it takes a great deal of time.
  • Long articles are more risky (and potentially rewarding) because they tend to position the writer as an authority. By contrast, a short article doesn’t have to be “serious,” and can more easily hold a reader’s attention.
  • It’s much more difficult for writers to stay on topic when writing long articles. Material that isn’t on topic must either be deleted or set aside for a different article.

I thought about these things after having spent an enormous amount of time on my PremodernWisdom blog post, How to Witness Without Compromise. I wondered, “Since I have to spend so much time writing these long posts, do readers benefit proportionally from that extra time?”

This is definitely a question that you should wonder about as a reader. After all, if you know that you have a chance to benefit from nearly one week of a writer’s time instead of only one hour, perhaps you will feel less hesitation in the future about reading lengthy, well-researched and thought-out articles.

I think the answer to the question is that without a doubt, readers do benefit in some proportion to the writer’s time. Let me give you an example…

Instead of writing about 5,200 words in How to Witness Without Compromise, I could have taken less time by using the same ideas in ten articles of about 500 words each. That content would surely have been more tempting for readers, and surely would have gotten me more Google traffic. However, would the information have been just as valuable? Surely not, because it wouldn’t have been well organized. You wouldn’t have had, arranged in one place, a comprehensive answer to the question, “How can a Christian go into the world and avoid compromising their witness?”

For the same reason, I think well-written and researched books are significantly more valuable than short blog posts and eBooks, even if you can get many of the eBooks for only 99 cents. Cheap eBooks are an easy impulse buy, but this often comes at the expense of the content’s quality, which in turn comes at the expense of your valuable time. By contrast, a full-length book is likely to cover one main topic from many different angles, thus helping you become an expert, much like the author.

I know what it’s like to write a veeerrry long article because I wrote a 686-page book, including appendices and footnotes, in a large, 7”x10” format. I would have found it much easier to write 686 one-page blog posts, but I know the book is much more valuable than that. My book, Return to Genesis adds great value by arranging all the details into a meaningful context that is organized by subheadings, tables, chapters, and parts. Readers don’t learn only from the raw facts, but also from the interrelationships. In fact, I don’t think you can find any book in print that does a better job than Return to Genesis of explaining the “big picture” issues for Christians today.

Return to Genesis has 27 chapters. Thus, it would cost nearly $27 if each chapter was sold at the price of a 99-cent eBook. However, you can’t hold eBooks in your hands, except through an electronic reader. For a limited time, you can receive a $15 discount on Return to Genesis by clicking on the book advertisement that you see on this page. This discounted price makes the book cheaper than 27 eBooks, half of which you may either regret having purchased or never read.

What kind of content do you want to see? Do you prefer a greater quantity of short articles; a lesser quantity of longer, more well thought-out articles; or some combination of these?

Note: I was able to complete this 900-word article in less than two hours, not counting the time spent on the title and the picture.


  1. There’s definitely a lot to know about this topic.
    I really like all the points you made.

  2. rafael says:

    I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any recommendations for newbie blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

    • Sorry, I can’t offer advice in that area. However, there are many websites that specialize in helping newbie bloggers.

  3. B. Grimes says:

    I don’t drop many responses, but I did some searching and wound up here on The Benefits of Reading More Selectively. If you are posting at additional online sites, I would like to follow anything new you have to post. Could you make a list of all of your shared pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

  4. Saved as a favorite, I like your web site!