Factorial – September 2011

Sentences are getting shorter

Sentences are getting shorter – are we lazier readers, more time-poor or better writers?

In Ann Wylie’s e-newsletter, she quotes research by authors Lucius Adelno Sherman and William H. DuBay to make the following observations about average sentence lengths over time:

  • Pre-Elizabethan times: 50 words
  • Elizabethan times: 45 words
  • Victorian times: 29 words
  • Today: 20 words


What is the average length of your sentences?

Word game

A reader sent me this word game. Enjoy!


Take one letter away at a time leaving a proper word behind each time. The first letter to remove is l. Answer at the bottom.

Writing resources

Download a copy of William H. DuBay’s Working with Plain Language. It has some great information on assessing readability.

Download a guide on How to Use Twitter for Business.

How long do people stay on your website?

I receive Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox on website useability. Last week, the email summary was:

‘Users often leave Web pages in 10-20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer because visit-durations follow a negative Weibull distribution.’

A Weibull distribution? I clicked through.

‘Weibull is a reliability-engineering concept that’s used to analyze the time-to-failure for components. The model’s hazard function indicates the probability that a component will fail at time t, given that it has worked fine up until time t.’  

There are two kinds of Weibull – positive and negative ageing. With positive ageing, the longer something has been operating the more likely it is to fail; with negative ageing, the longer something is in service the less likely it is to fail.

Just change ‘components failing’ to ‘people leaving your site’ and you have the concept for websites.

Researchers (Chao Liu et al) found that 99% of web pages have a negative ageing effect. In other words, if your web page survives the 10-20 second judgement, users will stick around for a while.

The question remains: How do we write value propositions that grab people’s attention? Suggestions welcome.


Quote of the month 

‘It’s far better to be heard well by a few, than float through the semi-conscious minds of a mass.’
Robert Gerrish, www.flyingsolo.com.au 



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