Sunday, March 8, 2009

Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address, and Your Blog

How long should a blog entry be? Like an email, a blog entry can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Usually, problems arise with blog posts that are too long rather than those that are too short. While there are no hard and fast rules about the maximum length of a post, there is one rule inspired by a 19th century writer that that provides a useful guide for today’s writers.

President Abraham Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg, PA, on November 19, 1863 was a speech of only 266 words that was both a powerful message on the principles of democratic government and a shining example of how a short message can speak volumes. This speech also provides the inspiration for the Gettysburg Criterion for email that I wrote about in my book Parenting and the Internet. This is a rule that the text in the body of an email should be shorter than the Gettysburg Address. If the rule makes sense for email, it should probably make sense for blog entries.

To use the Gettysburg Criterion, get a copy of the Gettysburg Address and keep it nearby when you are writing. When you get though with your rough draft, compare the length to that of the Gettysburg Address. If the draft is longer than Lincoln’s speech, then consider making it shorter. If making it shorter is not an option, then your consider options such as breaking up the posts into two or more posts, or just post a synopsis of your writing in the blog and make the full version available elsewhere such as in a downloadable file.

For your convenience, I’ve included below the text of the version of the Gettysburg Address that is inscribed in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC (punctuation added for clarity):

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

The Gettysburg Criterion is only one way to evaluate your writing. If you can write a post that is much longer or much shorter but that is also effective, then do so. If using the Gettysburg Criterion encourages you to take time and energy to become a better writer then, it will probably help you in ways that go far beyond your next blog entry.

You can download a free copy of Parenting and the Internet, including the Gettysburg Criterion, at

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