As many as you need to tell the story and no more.
A short, punchy press release can sometimes cover all its news in 200-300 words, while a story needing more detail could run to 500 words or so.
What is important is that every word counts. If sentences ramble or contain incidental information that does not add much to the story, they could obscure the main message you want to get across.
Is there an absolute limit? No, although a longer press release must be enthralling or contain ground-breaking news to work. If it waffles or is stuffed with words and phrases that don’t move the story on, much is likely to be cut if a journalist has managed to read it all.
The test is to ask what every sentence or piece of information contributes. If it contributes nothing, cut it.
There is an option to stop writing.
There are also options to edit what’s already written, to cut, to shorten sentences.
More words don’t necessarily make it any easier to understand a message. As the 140-character limit of twitter demonstrates, communicating succinctly can be very effective: it concentrates the mind.
I can remember sitting in an exam and watching someone walk up to the front of the hall for more paper. I worried that I wasn’t writing enough. It didn’t matter: the few words I wrote answered the questions well enough for me to get an A.
I can remember a sales manager worrying about a tender and just writing more and more. In the end, they just repeated themselves to the point of confusion.
When standing up to deliver an elevator pitch, the most effective attention-grabber is often a pause.
Sometimes the words we leave out make those we do write and say even more powerful.
What’s the best tone in which to write? It all depends on what you want to say, who you say it to and what you want to achieve.
Just imagine the response to someone walking into a pub and talking like the press officer of a local council? Probably some strange looks and possibly a phone call for an ambulance to take them away.
Why? Because the institutional language of local government isn’t appropriate in a pub.
So how do you know what voice to use and how to develop a style of writing appropriate for your audience? One way is to read out loud what you write and listen to how it sounds. If you don’t feel you’re good at reading aloud, ask a colleague or associate you trust to read it out and listen to them. Is it language your audience will understand easily? Are they likely to respond to it? Ask what other people you know think of it.
It’s important to remember that words on screen or paper still have to sound right because they are spoken by the silent voices in people’s minds.
Try it and see how your voice sounds.