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Should we be using estimated reading times?

Nathaniel
Web Developer. I make doodad.dev, prodtodolist.com, my personal site is endtimes.dev
・1 min read

I'm working on a new website. We're trying to be thoughtful about every feature we add. Asking ourselves do we really need this?

We're currently having a discussion about estimated reading times on articles, and would be interested to hear what everyone has to say?

Some points we're thinking about:

  • Where does the estimated reading time come from?

  • If it takes 20 minutes for someone to read an article that we've labelled 5 minute read how does that make that person feel?

  • Does it put off fast readers?

  • Should we consider alternatives like: "short read", "long read", "article", "essay", "a couple of paragraphs".

  • Do interactive elements, infographics, embedded videos or audio make the whole thing redundant?

  • Is there any evidence to support estimated reading times?

What are your thoughts?

Discussion (6)

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inhuofficial profile image
InHuOfficial

It is an interesting one, I think a lot of people are really just after article length and reading times is easier to approach than a word count!

Reading time is generally words / 200.

I recently released a massive article and someone commented that the read time stopped them reading it and put them off. What I am not sure is did the long read time encourage some people to read it?

I did find this article martech.org/estimated-reading-time... which seems to suggest there is some science behind having the reading time, but I only skim read it and haven’t fact checked it so take it with a pinch of salt!

For me, on programming sites, reading time is pointless as I could spend 10 minutes examining a code snippet or I could skip them altogether so the accuracy is questionable at best!

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shadowfaxrodeo profile image
Nathaniel Author

I actually read your article. And the 68 minutes read time definitely intrigued me rather than put me off.

Thanks for the link I’ll give it a read

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pgradot profile image
Pierre Gradot

The estimated time to ready an article highly depends on the purpose of the article.

If it's some quite of news, that fine.

If it's a tutorial about code, with complex concept to understand, many code sample you have to analyze, the reading time is so dependent on the reader's background on the topic.

So I would say that this is an interesting indicator but it depends on what kind of website you are talking about.

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ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

Honestly, perceived quality of a resource is far more important to me. If something doesn't catch my attention in the first 1-3 paragraphs (dependent on length), I am not reading it. If I am unsure of the value it may provide, I will speed-read the article and the way I do that generally involves processing only 1 of every 2-4 words. If it interests me, I will go back and read it properly, but I don't mind reading a very long article if it is insightful and I prefer text to video or audio.

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jayjeckel profile image
Jay Jeckel

I mostly ignore the reading time estimates on articles around here. I some times use the 1 min read as a deciding factor to ignore an article if I'm on the fence after considering the title and tags. Likewise, if the title and tags are promising and the read time is long, that might be the straw the convinces me to read the article. In any case, it is the last and lowest weighted data point I consider.

Personally, I'd much rather the raw numbers. Slap character, word, and paragraph counts at the bottom of each summary and let me figure it out from there.

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia (he/him)

I thought about this maybe too long for my blog. What I finally decided was that I wanted something to indicate length, because "do I have the patience for this" is probably the most fundamental kind of question for content. At least in broad strokes, I'd consider it as conceptually important as marking posts "not safe for work," in cases (which haven't come up) where it's relevant.

However, I didn't want an actual time, since--like you point out--it sounds bogus. Do I read 120 words per minute? Do you? Does a child? Does a screen reader? How do the numbers change in a distracting environment?

Ultimately, I went with a rounded word count. We all know what a word is. If readers care about their reading speed, the readers are at computers that can divide just as well as I can. That said, I haven't done any rigorous research about this.