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May 31 / Ben Phillis

The writer’s challenge: How to balance depth with concision

Ben PhillisIn my early weeks in the Bleacher Report Sports Media Intern Program, I found many of my articles were either underdeveloped or far too lengthy, and my audience was sure to let me know.

The sportswriting world is all about giving readers the type of articles they want. Your content, angle and style are all your own, but it’s imperative to create readable articles by balancing concision with well-developed arguments.

Readers will tear writers apart for publishing unsupported arguments, but a verbose or rambling article will lose readers just as quickly.

A good article is pithy while supporting its claims fully.

To this point in the internship, I’ve gleaned a lot from readers, read counts and the editing team about depth. Readers have called me out for unsubstantiated arguments. Read counts suffered for articles that were simply too long.

The feedback and copy editing teams have given me the most constructive feedback. They pointed out specific examples in every article they reviewed where I needed more evidence.

But I won’t always get that kind of intensive hand-holding. It’s vital for me to be conscious of depth when proofreading. I have to be sure that I back up every statement that isn’t patently obvious, and then go back over the piece to see if I’m rambling or being too wordy.

There are a few ways to tell if your writing is unnecessarily long. Any background information that isn’t central to your argument can be cut. Does it move you toward your primary point? If not, scrap it.

Anything that feels remotely tangential probably is.

If you reread your article and feel like your background information is dragging on, readers will definitely feel that way. Always err on the side of caution. As a solution, try consolidating as many words and sentences as possible when providing essential background.

By finding a balance of depth and brevity, you will make readers feel informed without getting bogged down. Articles with those qualities are readable at worst and captivating at best.

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Ben Phillis is an NFL Featured Columnist and in the Spring class. Follow him on Twitter @BPhillis89.

One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask our interns to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned in the B/R Sports Media Internship that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.


  • Chris Mueller

    Spot on. One of the things I have learned most from writing here is how to craft a piece that is the right length for the subject matter.