Should You Write Longform Articles or A Shortform Series? – Reader Question

Yasawi over on Dev.to asks:

“If I have a big topic to blog, Should I make it into a series of blogposts under same title or different title?”

This is a great question and one that doesn’t have one correct answer. There are benefits to post large, authoritative pieces of content. These tend to be popular and get shared more often since they provide more value. As an example, looking at the top posts from Dev.to for the year, they are all large lists and guides. However, my suggestion, in this case, would be to start by writing a series of smaller posts.

Publish More, Publish Smaller

The reason I recommend this strategy is that it helps you combat the biggest obstacle of finishing large posts: Failing to finish. I’m guilty of this myself. Once you imagine writing “The Complete Guide to X”, its easy to get caught, and never publish because you fear that you haven’t tackled a large topic completely enough.

With the smaller post strategy, you can tackle the problem in bite-sized chunks. You could break up the writing into smaller batches, but I think it’s important to publish your writing along the way. It takes the pressure off. It’s easier to create a small post instead of creating THE Thing.

Publishing allows you to get feedback along the way. While the internet has trolls, it also has people that can provide useful feedback. People challenging your ideas can be a good thing. In addition, questions people ask can give you ideas for future pieces of content. For example, the post you are currently reading.

Avoid The Series That Never Ends

One of my first attempts at blogging was to write a series about using the terminal in your web development process. I started the series without a plan and wrote 4 posts over 18 months.

That is not the way to write a web series.

If you want to write a series, I’d recommend not calling it a series from the outset unless you have a solid plan for how you are going to finish the series. In that case, it’s great. Delivering value in a planned, consistent manner builds trust with your audience. Failing to do so will have the opposite effect. Having said that, I don’t think this is an “either-or” decision.

Why Can’t We Have Both?

My recommendation would be to start writing and publishing small pieces of content with a higher frequency. Then, once you have a few under your belt, you can repurpose the content into a longer-form piece. My friend Jason Swett recently produced a great guide using this strategy. He was tackling the problem of deploying Rails apps on AWS, which if you have ever tried you know is a major headache. Instead of writing one long-form guide, he wrote 5 smaller articles and then combined them. It has the added benefit of being more approachable to the reader, and since he solves several smaller problems, he doesn’t get one piece of content out of the process, he gets 6. You can check it out here: How to deploy a Ruby on Rails application to AWS.

You can create long-form content out of short-form content, but its harder to go in the other direction. I’d bias towards a publishing strategy that provides you with less stress, more feedback, and greater flexibility.