What cricket can teach us about long and short form content

Today is the final day of this summer’s Ashes series between England and Australia.

The Ashes is the biggest and most important Test series in world cricket. For English and Australian cricket fans nothing beats an Ashes summer.

The traditional 5 day format of Test cricket may still be hugely popular with cricket fans in England, Australia and South Africa; but in other cricket playing countries, the long form of the game is struggling. Test match cricket is fighting to match the popularity of the shorter Twenty20 version of cricket.

Non cricket fans complain that Test cricket lasts too long. How can a game last 5 days and still end up a draw is a common complaint I hear. At least with T20 the game only lasts 3 hours and there’s usually a winner.

Cricket purists will argue that Test cricket represents the proper version of the game. T20 might not please the purists but it’s a quick and easily understood form of cricket that appeals to both newcomers to the game and established fans.

Thinking about Test and T20 cricket it got me thinking about long and short forms of written content. In the same way there’s a debate about the long and short forms of cricket, you hear same discussion about online written content.


Which is better: Test Match or T20? Long or short content?

Neither is better or worse than the other. They both have their merits. It depends on what appeals to your audience.

When you’re deciding whether to go with long or short content think about your audience. What’s going to appeal to them? Are they novices or experts on the subject you’re writing about? Do they need information in a short easily packaged format or do they require something more insightful and in depth?

I like both forms of cricket but for different reasons just like I like short blog posts and more in depth long form articles. They have different attractions and appeal in different ways.


Test match cricket is more skillful than T20?

Having grown up watching Test cricket, I’ve always considered it a more skillful and demanding game than T20.

Recently my opinions have started to change. I’ve begun to realise that T20 cricket requires high levels of skill but the skills needed to be successful in T20 are different to those of Test cricket. The same applies to short and long form content.

If you’re writing a short 500 word blog, you have to grab the reader immediately. Strong appealing headlines to sell your post. Your intro has to be tight and gets to the point quickly. Every word and sentence has to count, you’ve only got a short space in which to speak to the reader.

T20 is the same – batsmen have to get runs quickly as soon as they start batting. There’s no time to slowly accumulate runs like in Test cricket. Bowlers have to take wickets quickly their job isn’t to contain the batsman.

Test cricket requires more patience from both the batsman and the bowler. A batsman has to build an innings, when you’re writing a long form of content, you have to slowly build your piece just like a batsman builds his innings.

You might be able to grab your reader in the first few paragraphs but there’s a skill in keeping the reader interested as you develop your written piece.


People’s attention spans are shorter – they don’t want long content?

We’re always hearing that people have less time than they used to. We like things immediate and instant. In many ways it’s no surprise that T20 has grown in popularity. It reflects the change in our society where we’re used to absorbing shorter and more condensed forms of information.

Despite this demand for instant gratification, we’ve seen that the slower more methodical form of Test cricket is still popular with fans.

Test cricket is like a slow drama compared to T20. It might take longer to reach a conclusion but the game takes you on a longer journey and there’s a more in depth narrative to follow.

For many cricket fans this is more fulfilling and interesting. The challenge for Test cricket is to promote and market this slower drama in an appealing way to the public.

The same goes for long form written content. You can explore ideas and themes in more depth, take your reader on a longer journey. They may need to invest more time and effort but that attention is rewarded with something more substantial.


Twenty20 cricket introduces people to Test cricket

I’ve met lots of people who don’t know much about cricket but they enjoy T20. T20 acts as an introduction to the world of cricket for those unfamiliar with the game.

It’s fast paced, easy to understand, with something always going on. Wickets falling, batsmen hitting fours and sixes all the time, music playing. It’s exciting!

Short form content can do the same thing. If you’ve written a series of short blogs on a topic, how about introducing your readers to a more in depth piece like a an e-booklet. If your audience are telling you they like your short content why not give them more of the same but longer.

I know of writers who have started off as bloggers posting short posts every week and these blogs have lead to published books. This is a great example of the short form leading readers to the long form content.


I don’t like cricket – I love it

Some of you might not like cricket or even understand it, others may love it; but it’s a simple idea to understand there’s a long and short version of the game.

Both are different but compliment each other. Both require different sets of skills from players and both place different demands on the audience watching.

It’s exactly the same with writing online content. One form is no better than the other but some people will always have a preference.

What’s important is that whatever format you choose, make sure you highlight the best qualities that each format has to offer. Both can be interesting and entertaining; boring and dull in equal measures. It’s all comes down to how you present your content.