A Short Post About My Long Posts For Short Attention Span Readers

A lot of my posts are long, so I know there are some out there who don’t read the whole posts, either ending early or skimming, or who skip them altogether. I just want to write a (relatively) short post to explain that I totally get that and explain my thinking on the matter. For those who find even this post too long, I have put the key points in bold.

But, first, in my defense, I have many readers who pay me the honor of reading most or all of my long posts. I’m very proud that readers spend roughly six and a half minutes on average per pageview. That’s apparently including all the hits that end in just seconds factored in. So people do read, and on average they read more than twice as long as on other atheist blogs. So, I might get more hits were I to write shorter posts, but what’s the point if people spent less time reading, learned less, and had less to think about afterwards?

But some of you can’t or don’t want to commit 7-15 minutes a day to reading me. I totally get that. So when people say, “you should write 500 word posts instead of your regular 1,500-3,000 word posts”, my response is always, “if you want a 500 word post, just read 500 of the words. I don’t mind!” The 1,500 words are there for those who want a fuller exploration, very precisely worded with lots of rich nuances scrupulously included where others omit them and leave themselves open to more challenges.

But if you don’t need all my details on a particular point that you already know well, or on which you already agree with me, or if you’re just bored, or you don’t have time or you have a short attention span, then by all means speed up, start skimming, find a section that you find more thought-provoking and just read that shorter section. Keep reading until you get bored and skim again until you find something particular for you again. My only request is before commenting on anything, you make sure you saw all the parts of the post related to it. 

Otherwise, skim away, read half posts, whatever works for you. I’m just honored you read at all!

Finally, some defense of my posting style. I find most short philosophical posts stop just when they reach the first interesting idea. They’re usually total letdowns. I am pleased my posts usually are thorough and detailed enough that all the ideas make a cohesive whole and are strengthened by being presented all together. And the result is that even though my writing makes for relatively long blog posts, I do philosophical writing that is usually shorter, more thorough, and more efficient than whole journal articles or book chapters that are longer and don’t say much more (or even say less) than I do. So, even when reading me is a time commitment, I don’t think I’m a waste of time. My relatively succinct and relatively accessible thoroughness is, I think, what people find so satisfying about my writing when they like it.

And what satisfies me about this approach is that my thoroughness means my commenters frequently push my thinking beyond where I’ve thought to go yet because I already laid out what I know. You can find what I don’t know rather than what I just left out. I love that.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Ross Burnett

    I’m going to make a point of reading more your stuff and less of the junk.

  • ZenDruid

    I’m fond of Schopenhauer, simply for this:

    ‘Why write a book when a pamphlet suffices?’

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      That’s how I feel! But then people complain that, as far as pamphleteers go, I write stuff that’s a little on the long side.

  • http://batman-news.com Anton


    (Not long enough; didn’t read)

  • MNb

    My thoughts? The problem is not that your posts are too long. Even this short post of you I didn’t read entirely. No, I like long reads. When well written 20 minutes, half an hour are peanuts.
    No, my problem with your posts is that it takes you way too many detours to get where you want to get. Thoroughness is not the same as longwindedness. Even on this post you’re more longwinded than thorough.

    “Finally, some defense of my posting style.”
    Finally? It’s what you begin with and repeat a gazillion times! You may not like the word “stupid”, but with the extensive, detailed and long-winded explanation you give me I tend to feel treated as a stupid anyway.

    [parody alert]Just my thoughts. No reason to take it seriously, really. Each his or her own. If you feel happy the way you write and have readers who feal the same, by all means stick to your schtick. It’s part of you, part of your personality. It’s not up to me to judge. You are who you are and you’re definitely not me. [/parody]

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      No, my problem with your posts is that it takes you way too many detours to get where you want to get. Thoroughness is not the same as longwindedness. Even on this post you’re more longwinded than thorough.

      The detours are often the point. They are the thoroughness. They’re just not presented systematically but in a stream of conscious way that can make a reader feel disoriented and like I must have lost the plot.

      Where my writing gets slowed down is in some repetitiveness, I’ll grant you that. Sometimes that’s longwindedness, usually though it’s because I write very defensively. I don’t like to leave any sentence open to attack. So I will repeat the key points and caveats when advancing new ideas to be super careful people didn’t forget them when moving on to the next point that depends on them. This can mean some bogged down patches. And in general, I like to nuance every point I can with an extra adjective, adverb, or relative clause. Again, this is mostly defensiveness, but sometimes a matter of cramming as much possible value into each sentence as possible. It’s very deliberate in that way, not just a longwinded inability to make a succinct point succinctly.

    • MNb

      It still makes me feel you think I’m stupid.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      You mean you find the repetitiveness condescending? I don’t at all assume a reader who can’t follow. I assume people are like me and benefit from hearing the same thing a couple different ways because it reinforces for the sake of memory and gives a couple angles at which to understand something’s meaning. By contrast I have read philosophers who will state a key idea and just let it sit there and move on and build on it without giving an alternate formulation. And I just stare at it because as is it’s, to me, fairly ambiguous. But they just rocket off like it’s clear and uncontroversial. I can’t keep up with a lot of writing like that. I benefit from authors who make the themes unmissably pronounced, personally.

      The other thing is that I am thinking as I go. So often I will repeat something because I am just taking multiple passes at it and not hitting it as straight as I’d like. Or I’m discovering something midstream and then wanting to go play with it and see what it leads to and just keep writing and reminding myself of it by saying it again each time. Then I just click “post”. In a future post I will probably just work in that idea in a sidebar or boil it down to a sentence. But you’re often reading the first drafts of my working through a concept or how I’d articulate it in writing, even if it’s something I have known a while in my head.

      So, there is some sloppiness on that account. You’re reading a brainstorming blog, not a repository for polished pieces. It’s always been that. Because if I put pressure on myself to polish my blog posts, there would be one a year. I give myself the permission to post imperfectly here.

      I apologize if the rough edges are annoying. But condescension is never in my mind. Making sure I’m clear so I don’t look like I’m missing something is. Trying to hit a precise target is. Trying to be clear by always making my meaning as explicit as possible so the reader doesn’t have to guess is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.moriarty.395 John Moriarty

      Using bold for key statements could help those who for reasons sometimes justified, sometimes less so, need a shorter version. I would love to see you produce a multilayered essay, rather like say an excel sheet where the tabs add detail to the headlines. Think also how mapping works in electronic form – you can drill down to the level of detail appropriate for your purposes, or you can zoom out for the bigger picture. The flexibility in mapping needs to be made into a new richer prose style, both appearing thorough or pedantic, as the reader perceives, likewise broad-brushed or superficial. Then the reader can read as he/she wishes. Wasn’t the electronic media invented just for that? Would the great writers of old not delighted in embedding their footnotes in hover-over speech bubbles and other such similar multilayers?

      I tried as an excercise to summarise one of your recent posts, and gave up, because I did not think a shorter version would have been as good and as useful as the original -Sometimes a subject deserves thoroughness

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.moriarty.395 John Moriarty

      PS the grouping and outlining function in MS Word is good for this treatment of a work. I would love you to give it a try.