*ERT means “Estimated Reading Time* and is the reason for this post*
Over the last few years, you’ve probably noticed a trend in blog post titles. This trend transcends blog genre. Whether the blog is religious, political, comical, etc., the trend is ubiquitous and entrenched in blog authors’ minds. You know the trend…
“7 Reasons Why Elf is a Holiday Classic” or
“5 Reasons Why Pastors Experience Burnout” or
“34 Reasons Why German Hamsters Live Longer Than Australian Hamsters”
Everyone is into this trend. This makes me wonder, “Why?” I thought about listing 3-4 reasons why this is the case but the irony of that exercise was too much for me to handle. But I will give some musings as to why I believe this trend has lasted so long. I’ll also highlight some inherent failures with this trend and will advocate something I think is more useful: estimated reading time.
In our time-squeezed culture, publishers and authors know that most people do not have time to sit down and read long blog posts and articles. There is so much to read on the internet that readers who struggle with time management and brains that won’t shut off (such as myself) will get absolutely lost reading all of the content. When that happens, sermons don’t get prepared for, babies don’t get fed, showers aren’t taken, and I end up wishing I hadn’t changed my cable provider. Seriously, though, publishers know that for reasons unknown to me but probably known to scientists, the brain is more likely to click on a link that says “X Reasons…” Why?
One reason I believe this is true is because the brain thinks, “Hmm…I have time for that. If it’s a very long blog post, I can at least skim the ‘reasons’ and get the gist of post.” I know this is true with me. I am more likely to click on a post and at least skim the reasons if I don’t have time to read why the reasons exist in the first place. However, this type of reading is shallow and I believe trains our brains to skim. Skimming is not good. It didn’t work in high school with book reports and it doesn’t work when you’re trying to learn about something.
Furthermore, the “X Reasons” approach can lead to much frustration. For instance, I may click on “27 Things You Didn’t Know About National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and I may only spend about 10 minutes reading it. But, I may click on “3 Things You Didn’t Know About Palestine in the 3rd Century” and may be reading for 20 minutes or may quit reading all together out of frustration.
This is why I am advocating a new approach, or an additional approach, to blog post titles: estimated reading time. What is ERT? Simple: It is an estimate of the time it should take the average person to read a certain post. This is not something I have made up. My Kindle app uses it when I am reading a book. Sometimes it tells me the time I have left to read a chapter. Sometimes it tells me the time I have left in the whole book which is not very helpful (I don’t need to know that I have 3 hours and 55 minutes left in a book that I just started. That seems way overwhelming). But I believe if authors were to read their finished blog post and time themselves and then round up or down (depending on if they are a fast reader or slow reader) and include this ERT, it would help many people manage their time better. And they would know if they were about to venture into a long read (as this blog post is turning into).
“Time” is how we gauge a lot of our activities. For instance, if I sit down to watch my favorite show on Netflix, I know I need about 45 minutes. So, if I know I only have 20, I know i’ll get halfway through it and can start later. Also, if I’m watching a video on YouTube I know exactly how much time I’m about to waste before I waste it.
Wouldn’t it be nice for blog posts to include an ERT? I think so. Spread the word. ERT may save a life or even prevent a house from burning down. The power is in your hands, authors.