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Occasional fits of obsessive analysis, bits of what I'm learning along the way, with a dash of self-promotion.

Measuring Voiceover Length in Tweets

 

On a recent project, I wanted to help a collaborator decide how much to write for a 60-second voiceover. Word count is the standard unit for measuring the length of a script, but only copywriters have a feel for what that measurment means. I wanted a measurement on a more intuitively human level. Inspired by my recent love affair with Twitter, I decided to use tweets as a unit of length. So I set out to translate “60 seconds of talking” into “__ tweets’ worth of content”. I dusted off a tool from 11th grade chemistry: units math. Good teachers teach memorable lessons, and Kim Ouderkirk was—and is—one of the best.

Number of Words You Can Read in 60 Seconds × Number of Characters in Average Word = Number of Characters You Can Read in 60 Seconds

In my timed 60-second test, I read 170 words. Beginners normally read a little faster than a natural listening speed, so let’s reduce that to 150 words.[1][2]

Number of Words You Can Read in 60 Seconds = 150 words.

The average English word contains 5.1 characters. Academics actually use shorter words than encyclopedists (4.8 characters per word), so let’s split the difference:[3]

Number of Characters in Average Word = 5 characters/word.

So, how many characters can you read in 60 seconds?

150 words × 5 characters/word = 750 characters

We’re halfway home. You can hear the roar of the distant crowd getting closer as we approach. Here’s the unit math that will take us across the finish line:

Number of Characters You Can Read in 60 Seconds ÷ Number of Characters in Average Tweet = Number of Tweets You Can Read in 60 Seconds

We all know that 140 characters/tweet is the maximum, but the maximum is not the right number for this calculation. That’s because most tweets are shorter than the maximum. So to the average person, “the length of a tweet” feels shorter than 140 characters. But how much shorter? The best data I found on tweet length was from a Twitter employee in 2012. The mode (most common number of characters) is 28.[4] The mean (average) is 67.9.[5] The median (midpoint) is 60.[5] We’re interested in the median. Plugging in our answer from the first half and the median, we get:

750 characters ÷ 60 characters/tweet = 12.5 tweets

So:

Number of Tweets You Can Read in 60 Seconds = 12.5 tweets

There you have it! Here’s what I’ll recommend to my collaborator, whose script has three sections:

Try writing a 150-word script. That’s about four tweets for each section. Aim to keep the total length under 15 sentences.

Units math for the win.


  1. Aim a little low on purpose. If reducing the word count from 170 to 150 actually drops the length of the voiceover down below 60 seconds, use the space for build-in and build-out. Or add a sentence. It’s much easier to add than to cut.  ↩

  2. Turns out this is the same word count recommended by marketing guy Drew.  ↩

  3. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=average+english+word+length.  ↩

  4. https://twitter.com/isaach/status/155437871149481984. Via http://thenextweb.com/twitter/2012/01/07/interesting-fact-most-tweets-posted-are-approximately–30-characters-long/  ↩

  5. http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-average-length-of-a-tweet  ↩