What difference does length make?
All things else being equal, readers would rather read a short piece than a long one.
So what difference does length make? Researchers at the Readership Institute decided to find out as part of their study on reversing declining newspaper readership. (Of course, the study has implications for increasing readership in other publications, as well.)
The researchers studied 12 stories that were written in three ways:
- a 500-word inverted pyramid
- a 500-word narrative
- a 1,000-word narrative
Here’s what they found:
- Readers recognize the value of longer stories. They rated 1,000-word stories higher for giving all the important facts and showing all sides. That’s a key element in reader satisfaction, according to the study.
- Readers rate longer stories as less readable than shorter ones. Readability scores dropped almost 6 percent when stories were twice as long. Readers found longer stories hard to follow, too complicated and less relaxing to read. That’s another key element in reader satisfaction.
- Topic matters. Longer stories on science and education scored better than longer stories in arts, television and parenting. The question is whether reader interest — the biggest element in reader satisfaction — is strong enough to overcome the additional effort of reading.
|Readers say longer stories …|
Leave them wanting more
In his Broadway musical “Fame Becomes Me,” Martin Short quotes another Broadway actor as saying, “Leave them wanting less.”
This study shows that the reverse is, of course, better advice.
“In this study, we see how closely related story appeal is to length,” the researchers write. “In fact, ‘the story should be longer’ is actually part of the appeal rating. Stories that were rated as appealing were also rated as ‘should be longer’ almost automatically. If readers disliked a story, they were more likely to say, ‘a shorter version would be better.'”
Source: “Inside Satisfaction: What it Means, How to Increase it” (PDF), Readership Institute, April 2002