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Why 7 (+/-2) is the magic number when it comes to content creation

What can psychological theories tell us about how we should express our business’ most important messaging?

I’ve just read a few fascinating articles about content creation and user experience (Steph Hay, Web Standards Sherpa) and why the magic number 7 plus or minus 2 is so special. Miller’s Law is the  idea that “the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2.” Maybe sticking to 3-5 is the safe bet, as the first article recommends, as the capacity lowers to 4 with old/young age.

Chunking is used by the brain’s short-term memory as a method for keeping groups of information accessible for easy recall. It functions and works best as labels that one is already familiar with. (Wiki)

So should the best presentations have 7 slides or themes running throughout them? Is this what makes a Top 5 blog/article so easily consumable and therefore a common theme? It’s something to bear in mind when trying to introduce new terms for offerings to an audience. If these were all unfamiliar, new phrases then there could be some difficulty in remembering them all. Whereas one unfamiliar phrase/product name could stand out, look unique, but still be in a surrounding understandable, and safe, context.

Steph’s article also strongly recommends keeping messaging concise. An interesting way to think about that is how long would it take to say your message? Too long and it’s beyond the capacity of the brain to remember it:

The storage capacity is dependent on the information being stored. For instance, span is lower for long words than it is for short words. In general, memory span for verbal contents (digits, letters, words, etc.) strongly depends on the time it takes to speak the contents aloud. Some researchers have therefore proposed that the limited capacity of short-term memory for verbal material is not a “magic number” but rather a “magic spell”. Baddeley used this finding to postulate that one component of his model of working memory, the phonological loop, is capable of holding around 2 seconds of sound. (Wiki)

Content should take business goals into account and there’s some great tips and a table that can be used to ensure you’re on track in Steph’s article. It goes a little something like this…


As someone who is often asking/asked “what is the productive outcome for doing this?” when it comes to marketing activity, this table is a great way to ensure that there is a sound and effective business reasoning to your messaging.

Thanks Steph!


Interesting people to follow from this article:

Interesting UX person: @steph_hay

Learning about best web practices @StandardsSherpa

And then there’s me… @lauraofbrighton