What’s on Your Refrigerator?
by Lucie Lawrence
That’s how many pieces of information the human brain’s short-term memory can hold. And our brains can only keep this small amount of info for less than 30 seconds.
This means the brain quickly forgets large amounts of information — which doesn’t bode well in the business world.
The key is to move information into our long-term memory so that it can be retrieved and remembered. But what’s the best way to actually do this — especially when you’re communicating information to others?
The answer comes from the practice of “refrigerator” journalism — also called service journalism — which is concise, useful and usable writing.
Developed by Don Ranly, Ph.D., professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism, refrigerator journalism is all about presenting practical information in an efficient and effective way — in a format that readers will want to clip and stick on their refrigerators or bulletin boards.
The goals are quite simple: Make content useful, usable, accessible, user-friendly, visual, engaging and interactive.
With this in mind, here are some tips on presenting useful information in the most usable way — so our brains will want to hold onto it:
Easily digestible information in the form of video
Videos are extremely popular. Just think about the funny feline videos on YouTube that get more than 10 million views per video. And that’s just videos about silly singing and dancing cats.
According to Nielsen, 64% of marketers expect video to dominate their strategies in the near future. The reason for this lies in the cognitive function related to videos.
Watching a video is passive. It’s requires little energy or effort. At the same time, reading is active — and the process requires a longer attention span and deeper cognitive effort.
In fact, the brain processes videos 60,000 times faster than text. And because we are hardwired to dodge demanding cognitive strain, humans tend to choose information that is easy to process.
By 2020, 82% of all global internet traffic will consist of video. Does this mean that humans are lazy? Maybe. But it also means that video is clearly the wave of the future, so join the visual revolution.
Half of the world’s population will be using mobile devices to access the internet by 2020. That’s about 3.8 billion people.
Consequently, optimizing communications for this technology is absolutely vital. The best way to do this is to keep information engaging, brief and free of unnecessary content.
Studies show that difficult content is harder to read on a phone than on a desktop computer — and reading this content may cause lower comprehension on mobile devices.
In addition, using the web on mobile phones is more difficult due to slower downloads, no physical keyboard or mouse, a small screen with tiny text, and websites that are designed for desktop access.
The bottom line is that consuming small pieces of content in short bursts is how today’s mobile users actually consume information, so be sure to deliver content in this way. It’s all about bite-sized material that’s easy to grasp and digest.
In the words of Don Ranly, “service journalism is useful and usable — and its aim is to be used. It succeeds only if readers get off their chairs and do things — or stop doing things. Remember, the opposite of useful is useless.”
So the important question is not what’s in your refrigerator, but rather, what’s on your fridge?