How many words does it take to say just enough?

These three words, ‘Say just enough’, form the basis of everything we do at White Space Words.  It’s our mission to build understanding of this idea; that every word matters, but that saying less can say more, as long as it’s said with simplicity, beauty and meaning.

So, how many words does saying ‘just enough’ take?

At face value, the answer is:  it depends.  The keyword is ‘enough’.  How do we know what ‘enough’ means? Who defines what ‘enough’ is?  Does it depend on the number of words used, or is there more to it?

Is length everything?

The English teacher in me is putting up her hand immediately to reply.  Instinctively, I want to say, yes, of course length is important – our syllabuses dictate that student responses must meet length guidelines. eg. In Year 12 English, our students are required to write an analytical essay in examination conditions in 800-1000 words.  And, they do it.  Mostly quite nicely.

However, I would say also that I have seen my fair share of submissions over the years which have met the length requirement without an issue;  it’s just that the words used haven’t worked to achieve the task’s purpose.  On the other hand, I’ve known students who could have achieved the essence of the task in 100 words, such was their flair with words.

So, wearing my English teacher hat, I’d have to say, length isn’t everything.

Then, there’s the world of social media.

According to sproutsocial.com, there are times when length matters a lot.

Their advice regarding ideal lengths (as of May 2020):

  • Facebook update – 40-80 characters
  • Tweet – 71-100 characters
  • Instagram post – 138-150 characters (with 5-10 hashtags)
  • LinkedIn status update – 50-100 characters

(Read the whole article here – it’s filled with super-helpful detail.)

When I started blogging, like most people, I researched ideal blog length and came up with these answers (thanks to hubspot.com):

  • ‘how to’ blog – 1700-2100 words (You’re reading one of these right now!)
  • ‘what is’ blog – 1300-1700 words
  • blogging for SEO – 2100-2400 words

Towards the end of their blog on blogging (read it here), they state that there’s no ‘official minimum for blog post length’ (phew, at least I’m not going to have the police at my door!), but that ‘Yoast recommends at least 300 words’.  That being said, since the idea of blogging is to maximise audience reach, most people understand rankings will increase with longer content.

Of the entire article though, the sentence I like most is, ‘If you feel you’ve covered your topic well enough in 300, 800, or 1000 words, then so be it.’

Notice the word ‘enough’ there? Me too.

So we’re back to where we started.  What exactly is ‘enough’?

What is ‘enough’?

Increasingly, in our world, people are realising that filling their existence with things leads only to an increased lack of fulfilment.  We’re getting the idea that there can be ‘too much’.  Many have taken stock of what’s cluttering their lives and minds and made a conscious decision to minimise.

Perhaps consciously, perhaps sub-consciously, we’ve asked ourselves the question, ‘what is enough?’ and we’ve taken some steps to answer the question, each in our own way.  Perhaps we’ve realised we have too many shoes, or dresses, or toys.  My most recent ‘too many’ moment was with bed sheets – being kept ‘just in case’ and meanwhile taking up valuable cupboard space, when in reality they’re just not needed.  They’ve been donated now.  And I probably still have more than enough.  Exactly how many bedsheets is enough?

So, the idea of ‘enough’ is pretty much unquantifiable.  But here’s what I think.

I think we’re learning how to value the people in our lives and the connections we share more mindfully than ever before.  This is in no small part thanks to wonderful ideas being shared by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, aka The Minimalists, and others, like Courtney Carver of Be More With Less and Beth Kirby of Local Milk.

The power (and clutter) of words

The ideas of these incredible folk apply to communication, just as they do to ‘things’.  Saying ‘just enough’ all comes back to human interaction – communicating simply, yet meaningfully.

Using words to communicate, no matter the language, is incredibly powerful.  The thing is – every single word matters.  Yet, in a world where so many words exist, it seems ironic that we don’t always encounter the right words or the words we need most.  Daily, we see words which are misused, over-used, or deliberately used to create division.

I know it’s quite a simple example, but here’s one way to illustrate how words have been wasted, not so much in terms of length, but in terms of a lack of meaning communicated.  A generation ago, as children, we were taught to use a brief reply, ‘Well thanks’, when someone asked us how we were doing. But, that wasn’t really enough.  Unless we were simply ‘well’, then we should have felt free to express how we were actually doing.  That was in a time where children were meant to be seen and not heard.

Fortunately, more recently, children are encouraged to ‘use your words’ to explain how they’re feeling (often, at the height of a mini-meltdown!) and, when the child does so, that child’s parents breathe a sigh of relief that comes with understanding what’s really going on for their little one. Building a world where a reply is a genuine response surely matters more.  When young children learn that there’s not always the ‘right’ answer, the ‘best’ answer or the ‘quick’ answer, they are gifted the opportunity to use words authentically.  They learn about the power of words through the exchange.

Conversely, there’s no question that there are too many words flying around in our lives today – cluttering our minds, our screens and our pages.  According to Jeff Ansell, in an article on linkedin.com, the average person speaks at least 7000 words per day, yet many of them serve little or no purpose at all.  Note, this is a count of actual words spoken.  It’s a fantastic article, well worth the read, and links to another valuable article on ‘Doing fewer things, better’.

Speaking of reading (there I go advising you to read more!), in terms of how many words we read or see in a day, one estimate has it at over 400 000!  In addition, we hear another 20 000 to 30 000 words in a 24 hour period.

No wonder we’re feeling a little bombarded!

How to use ‘just enough’ words

How about this?

  • How about saying just enough to express an idea, a thought or a point clearly and kindly?
  • How about leaving space for your listener or your reader to think about what you’ve had to say?
  • How about leaving space to listen or to read the ideas of others?

I’m going to do it right now.  According to the blog length advice I quoted earlier in the article, I’m about 500 words short in terms of the ‘ideal’ minimum length if I want this blog to rank well in search engines.  Despite that, I feel like I’ve said just what I wanted to say.

For me, 1191 words works.  It’s enough.

Catherine

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