When to write at length?

How often do you find yourself needing to write more about something?

Let’s first consider three common scenarios where writing at length is desired:

  • Students
  • Sales / Marketing Professionals (Copywriters)
  • Researchers

Of course, there are the journalists and professional writers as well.

Student Essays

For students, there is the classical image of an essay being foisted upon them, minimum length required. If it’s pages, they’re in luck! They’re cranking up the font size, maximizing margins, even increasing the character, line and paragraph spacing! Or you might just find the most convoluted phrasings, idioms valued for their character count over meaning. Ideas paraphrased and repeated in every possible way.

It’s why I generally prefer not to have hard limits for writing length, but favor guidelines instead. Then focus on what needs to be conveyed, and whether that is achieved, to the desired level of clarity and detail.

Otherwise, you’ll get words for the sake of words, instead of the desired cohesion and meaning.


Long-form copy has historically offered the greatest engagement:

  • Sales letters (emails, newsletters)
  • Advertorials
  • White papers
  • Case studies

From David Ogilvy, one of the legends of advertising, in his book Ogilvy on Advertising:

When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.
via Postcron

Similar to my point on student essays, you are not trying to create words for the sake of words. Good copywriting has many elements. One of them is crafting a narrative. There needs to be a thread that paints a picture, speaks the language of your intended audience, and draws them in. It needs to present an understanding of their need, their problems, first not as their savior, but as one of them. Someone who empathizes with their issue, and can take the first step with them from their own shoes.

Certainly, short, punchy statements can be poignant. Especially with modern forms of media (see my post on How To Write Less).

However, good copywriting does a couple things. First, it presents the intended readers' problem in a voice that they can relate to. It also needs to demonstrate expertise and authority, which usually requires the writing to be more detailed. Other times, like a good, fast-paced novel, the stories are so rich and well-crafted, they just draw you in.

As Ogilvy says…“so interesting that you buy the product”.


Finally, researchers can encompass a range of writers from professional academics and scientists to journalists and non-fiction authors.

While there is some overlap between copywriters and researchers, researchers focus on presenting a thesis and detailing facts. Research writing is largely expository, with the goal of explaining and teaching the reader about a particular topic. By its very nature, this sort of writing is a deep-dive, and a thorough explanation tends not to be brief.

That said, good expository writing will employ tactics to provide structure and a common thread to the facts. This organizes the information presented to the reader, and helps the reader find a path to better understanding the topic. Stylistically, the author strives to avoid list-making or “information dump”, which are both dry. The goal is to craft something of a learning journey that carries the reader along and helps them ambiently assimilate knowledge.

Strategies for writing at length

So you find yourself needing to write a longer piece, and you feel like you’ve run out of things to say. This is a bit different from pure writer’s block, or getting started.

But you want to avoid adding words for the sake of length.

I have one strategy, or framework, if you can even call it that, that has worked wonders for me.

Breadth and Depth.


Expand on your topic by branching into tangential areas, or describing other facets or perspectives on the main topic. This approach adds entirely new sections that can enrich your overall story and provide overarching context to situate your primary topic. Adding 5 mini-essays on peripheral topics to your main essay will naturally extend your writing, and hopefully provide your reader with a more comprehensive view of your subject.


You can also go deeper on the subject. Explain the concept in greater detail. Paint a higher resolution picture to provide your reader with an immersive experience. Show them what you are talking about - don’t just tell them.

This is, of course, easier said than done. You may reach a point where you feel that you have exhausted all that you can say about a subject. And in those cases, going wider (breadth), may be the better approach. In exploring adjacent topics, I often uncover angles on details that I missed in my initial pass on the core topic.

Beyond adding detail to the core topic, you may also drill down and add sub-topics that add greater dimension to your primary subject.

Topic Mapping

Topic mapping is a critical part of my writing process, and does not relate specifically to breadth or depth.

Let’s say “oranges” is your core topic.

With breadth, you might branch out your topics:

  • Oranges
  • Relates to other fruits: Apples, Bananas
  • Relates to juices: Orange Juice, Apple Juice, Cranberry Juice
  • Relates to where it is purchased: Grocery Stores, Farmers Markets
  • Relates to uses: Juice, Consumption, Vitamin C, Candies, Flavoring, Citrus Preservatives
  • Relates to climate / agriculture / exports etc.

With depth, you might map out subtopics:

  • Oranges
  • Types of oranges: clementines, mandarins, tangerines, navel etc.
  • Seasonal and regional differences in freshness and flavor
  • Seeded vs. seedless
  • History of the crop, and how it has propagated …etc.