If you’ve ever heard this, chances are you had no idea how to react. Less than five words? Tres harsh! You might have been so offended that you couldn’t speak at all. At least it’s less than five words, right? Don’t take it too personally. There may be something behind this whole “five words” thing.
With today’s fast-paced lifestyle, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep things straight. Errors get overlooked, important dates are missed, and everyone’s patience is wearing thin. Between balancing a job, home life and social life, it’s not surprising that we should feel so rushed. It’s no wonder we have a hard time remembering things. People are overloaded. Five words may be all a person’s memory can handle.
Remember having to memorize the names and capitals of all 50 states? Excruciating! Now remember learning your zip code. Piece of cake. The difference has to do with your short- and long-term memory. Short-term memory stores information for up to 30 seconds. Whether or not this gets converted to long-term memory depends on how your brain categorizes the information and whether or not it deems that information worth remembering.
In 1956, psychologist George Miller published The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two. According to Miller, this was the pattern of organization for human memory. Humans organize information into smaller, more memorable sub-groups of information, using a technique called chunking.
Between five and nine chunks of information can be stored in the short-term memory for up to 30 seconds. Remembering anything beyond that takes significantly more effort and results in a significantly greater number of errors. In addition, the more complicated those chunks are, the harder they are to recall it.
Since then, the magical rule of seven has expanded to countless aspects of our lives. It’s no coincidence that phone numbers have seven digits. In the media environment, like everywhere else, there’s more to say and less time to say it. This may be why sites such as Digg, Google Reader and Twitter have made the art of media compression such a success.
Less truly is more on these sites. With just 140 characters per Tweet, readers get just enough information to decide whether or not a story is worth their time. Teasers need to be pleasers, and each has to be more inviting than the last. Seven words, plus or minus two. That’s all you get, so make ‘em count!
Do you think seven words, give or take a few, is enough? How are you using different media to direct content toward your site/blog? Has it been a challenge? Any advice? Share five words (or more) on the subject!