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Estimated Reading Time Indicator

1 August 2020

When browsing the web, we are exposed to a vast amount of information, including articles of interest to us. We don't always have the time to click on the link and dwell on reading them. However, if we know approximately how long reading this content would take us, we would probably more freely click on the link to the full article.

Therefore, I recommend presenting estimated reading time (ERT) at the top of each page beside the article's publishing date.

ERT should be displayed on web pages containing articles, stories, and reviews of certain content. However, there is no need to display it on visual content pages such as pictures, infographics, product pages, and short and frequent messages on blogs and social networks. Since these pages display a certain message focused on selling the product.

This article's ERT, by the way, is 2 minutes.


How to calculate the ERT

Reading rate is measured in amount of words per minute (WPM), which is commonly used to measure typing or reading rate. Reading time is subjective, as it depends on the type of content read. If the content includes graphic data analysis and pictures, reading will surely take longer. Other factors which affect reading time are font type and size, age of reader and the text's display. Is the text being read via computer screen or on paper? How many paragraphs does the text contain? how many characters does each word contain? The latter obviously affects the time spent on longer words. For standardization purposes, the 'word' to which WPM refers to is a word comprised of 5 characters.


According to studies in this field, an adult can read 200-250 WPM. Therefore, ERT can be reached by dividing the amount of words in the article by 200. If the result presents seconds, it is best to round it up (either upwards or downwards) to retain simplicity for readers' sake.


The quickest way to estimate the reading time is to enable digital tools, which include a calculator, to do the work. One example is the Read-O-Meter, a free calculator available as a website. This tool calculates EST based on a 200 WPM rate. You copy + paste the text into the calculation textbox and receive an indication, which is then to be manually pasted at the top of the article. Some software tools contain an automatic ERT calculation feature via script code (such as Java and HTML).


Origins of the ERT trend

On April 2009, journalist Marc Armstrong began posting the Twitter tag #longreads. He wanted to give people a way to recommend "magazine length" online articles. This tag later became a website titled long-reads containing only articles and stories comprised of more than 1,500 words. This website contained an ERT indication feature, including a word count for each article.


On November 2011, Amazon added an ERT feature to their mobile e-book reading app. This feature was actually activated a year later, in October 2012, on newer devices. In October 2013, when the blogging platform became available to everyone by former Twitter CEO Owen Williams, ERTs became an integral part of online reading culture.


In conclusion, the Estimated Reading Time indicator contributes to User Experience and enhances engagement by allowing users to choose what to read and when to read it.


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