The average adult reads at about 250 words per minute, according to Health Guidance. While that means we could theoretically read 2,500 words in just 10 minutes, this ability is severely rivaled by our almost goldfish-like attention span.
Just how long is the average human attention span? Well, a study published by Microsoft found that it’s about eight seconds.
Between the hustle and bustle of everyday life in conjunction with our eyes being glued to our social media, holding the reader’s attention (regardless of whether it’s print or digital media) all boils down to one, critical, core aspect: words.
Why Words Are Important
Words are perhaps our most powerful tool for communicating. Although the Aurora Employee Association reports that 70 percent of how communication is nonverbal, words are our way of giving context to those signals. They are our way of sharing and connecting with the world.
Not only is it important to choose the right words, but it’s equally as important to get your message across in the right amount of words.
Choosing the Right Words
When choosing the right words, readability should be your number one priority. Readability is the measure of how likely your content will be understood by the average person. There are various reading levels, as depicted in the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale. 0, being the lowest level, would be early learning books. 18, being the highest level, would be an academic paper.
Going based off of the Flesch-Kincaid grade level scale, you want to aim for a grade level of about eight, which is the average reading level. For example, Harry Potter would be a book at this grade level.
You want your text to be simple and easy to understand without being dull. Don’t be afraid to spice it up with a few literary expressions, phrases, or a fancy word here and there. Just don’t overcomplicate your work with unnecessary word clutter, as it will effectively keep your point from getting across.
How Many Words are Too Many?
Once you’ve got the reading level down to a T, there’s still one other issue to grapple with: word length. Remember, the average attention span is just eight seconds. After you’ve got the reader hooked, you want to get your message across in as few words as possible.
Of course, what is considered appropriate word length will vary depending on the media. If it’s a blog article, for example, it’s best to keep it between 300 to 1,000 words.
If it’s a book, you’ll want to focus more on the pages: how many there are total, and how many there are in each chapter. Shorter chapters are more rewarding to read and more interesting, as it means the story is always changing and evolving, as opposed to stagnating in one chapter.
As for infographics and ads, you’ll want to keep them as clear and concise as possible. Don’t go word heavy and make the most important words stand out by adjusting the font’s size or weight.
Sentence and paragraph length also come into play here. Long sentences are confusing and much harder to understand. If the reader has to ask themselves where the sentence started and what it was originally about, you’ve got a problem on your hands.
The same applies to paragraphs. Don’t be stingy with the new line button. The moment you switch topics, start a new paragraph. It will make the text easier to grasp and it’ll be much easier on the eyes. Nothing is worse than thumbing through a book or an article online only to reach a halt at a novel of a paragraph.
Whether you’re talking digital or print, words are important. In the ever-changing landscape of the digital age, it’s even more vital to write in a way that is as digestible and to the point as possible. In addition to choosing words that are easy to understand, it’s just as important to make sure you keep your text as short as possible without compromising the message.