The right number of points, or putting text in the right number of “chunks”, can make all the difference when it comes to getting the message across.
Our brains process numbers in 2 main ways. The first and most familiar way is counting – a gradual step-by-step process of understanding how many of something there are. Think of counting money, or sheep, if you’re an insomniac. The second way is subitising – a less familiar process that we have in common with many other animals from birds to bears. When we subitise an amount, we know instantly how many things are present. Think of a lioness recognising instantly whether all her cubs are present. Subitising works for 3-4 objects – 5 at the most. For numbers higher than that, we count – a slower and more effortful process.
The implications for copywriting? Well, it makes sense to keep our short copy – think web pages, social media content or indeed blog posts – structured in small chunks that can be instantly processed by the subitising brain. If you know immediately there are 3 paragraphs to read, or 3 points being made, it’s much easier to process than if you just see “a lot” of text on a page. A time-starved reader with a short attention span is more likely to commit to reading 3 points than “lots”.
We believe strongly in scannable content that’s visually inviting – bullet points, bolded text and a clear structure with relevant subheads. Put together with the power of subitisation, these methods can help us create copy that a reader instantly knows they want to read.