By the Numbers: 7 stats for cutting clutter from your copy

February 2, 2011

My birthday is in February, so I have numbers on my mind. Here are seven stats that can help you make your copy more accessible:

  • Two minutes: The average length of time employees spend reading their own CEO’s messages, according to a study by Thames University researcher Sandra Oliver

    At an average reading speed of about 200 words per minute, that means people are reading about 400 words. How long is your letter from the CEO?
  • 250 words: This is the recommended length for the average online news release, according to B.L. Ochman’s report “Press Releases From Hell and How to Fix Them.” Still writing 400-word releases? That’s great for print releases, but too long if you’re distributing via e-mail or the Web.
  • 400 seconds: This is the length of a Pecha Kucha program, a new movement in PowerPoint presentations. Pronounced peh-cha ku-cha, from a Japanese term meaning “chit-chat,” this approach lets speakers show 20 slides for 20 seconds a slide. For obvious reasons, it’s increasingly popular.
  • 65-70 characters: This is the best headline length if you want your news release to show up in Google News, according to a 2010 study by Schwartz Communications. Despite Google’s preferences, 77 percent of the 16,000 BusinessWire releases Schwartz reviewed for the study exceeded that recommendation. Does yours?
  • 0 percent: This is the optimum percentage of passive voice in your copy. The passive voice drones, making your copy seem longer than it is. Want your copy to feel as if it’s clipping along at a brisk pace? Activate the passive voice.
  • 5th grade: This is the optimum readability level for status updates that go viral on Facebook, according to a 2010 study by viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella. According to Zarrella’s research, people shared headlines that they wrote at the:
    • Fifth-grade level: 15 percent more often than average
    • Ninth-grade level: 10 percent more often than average
    • 15th-grade level: 20 percent less often than average

On Facebook, keep messages simple.  

  • 1.62 syllables: The average length of a word in a tweet that gets retweeted, according to another study by Zarrella. Want your message to spread on Twitter? Use mostly one- and two-syllable words..

And here’s a bonus number: 52. That’s how old I’ll be this month. May your copy get shorter before I turn another year older.

Copyright © 2011 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.


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