Of the 915 words in this piece of content, I’m counting on the Power of One principle to make an impression on you, dear reader.
You’re familiar with the maxim, illustrated in the 1992 feature film The Power of One. An English boy’s passion for boxing leads him to become a symbol of hope — even during a time of war that divides the world and in South Africa’s bitter apartheid culture. The message: one person’s actions can change many lives. A single ideal can have a powerful impact.
The Power of One is a truism in life. And it’s true in writing, too. If you want readers to remember and use the information you share in your content, then you need to use the Power of One.
The Power of One principle — applied to content writing — says that one strong message will always stand out better than a mix of several messages. And you’d like your message to stand out, wouldn’t you? That way, you have a better chance of being memorable.
There are at least three reasons why the Power of One principle works to make your content more memorable.
The power of “one idea per piece” is especially pivotal in how you write in the digital age because consumers are saturated with content. “Readers don’t want to hear everything I have to say about a topic every time I write,” says copywriting guru Michael Masterson. “They are looking for a single, useful suggestion or idea that can make them more successful.”
Even if your content reaches through the online deluge, readers feel less urgency to absorb it. Recall memory — the ability to spontaneously call information up in your mind — has become less necessary. When readers forget what you write, they’re not inconvenienced by a trip to the library. Instead, a quick internet search can help them retrieve what they’ve forgotten. Online access gives us permission to be less focused on recalling what we read.
Recognition memory is more important. “So long as you know where that information is at and how to access it, then you don’t really need to recall it,” says Jared Horvath, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne. The internet operates as your external memory.
Readers don’t remember 90% of what you write. Put another way, learners forget an average of 90% of what they’ve just learned. It’s disappointing but true.
And it’s not a new phenomenon. German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909) pioneered studies in memory which were reproduced in 2015. His Forgetting Curve theory documented the decline of what you retain over time, with the biggest memory loss recorded in the first 30 days after learning.
But there’s good news here. Even if people don’t remember the bulk of your content, you can help them recall the gist of it. If readers forget 90% of what you write, then you only need 10% of your content to be memorable. You can write in a way that helps your reader focus on one main point to remember from a piece of content.
There’s power in a laser focus on one idea per piece of content. You can target your writing on that point and eliminate rabbit trails of words. Doing so is meaningful for your reader. You help her to walk away with a useful idea — one that’s stamped into her memory.
Here are a few practical writing strategies to make the Power of One work for you. Below each strategy, I show in italics how I used the Power of One principle when writing this piece.
It’s tempting to pad your writing. Long-form content outranks short content with search engines, which means well-optimized posts and pages with 1,000+ words have a better chance of higher returns on search results. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for long content that delves deeply into a subject. If you can deliver a high-quality post that’s 1,000–2,500 words, then by all means do so.
But not at the risk of diluting your message. If you want your content to be memorable, then eliminate anything that does not advance your one idea. Readers don’t need the excess. In fact, they’ll skim over it.
Instead, choose one idea. Repeat it. Drive it home.
Readers will remember your main point when you make it your main point. That’s the Power of One in content writing.
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