Imagine that you are offered a free trip to one of 36 countries. That’s a tough choice. How are you going to decide? Now, imagine that you’re offered a free trip to one of 3 places. That’s an easier decision, isn’t it?
Let’s look at another scenario. Imagine that you have 12 items on your To Do list. How are you going to remember them all? It could be tricky.
Human beings crave information, but if we’re offered too much information all at the same time, we can’t cope with it.
Lots of Choices = No Decision
Researchers set up two sample tables in a supermarket. One table offered 24 varieties of jam while the other only offered 6. 60% of the people stopped and tasted jam at the table with 24 options. 40% tasted the jam at the table with 6 options.
So the table with more options was more successful at attracting attention. However, only 3% of the people who stopped at the table with 24 jars actually made a purchase. Six times as many people purchased jam from the table with only 6 jars.
The research will apply to written materials as well. If you are preparing a proposal or providing links to other documents on your website, don’t provide more than 3 or 4 options. Any more than that and people will freeze and be unable to make a choice.
In addition, research indicates that it’s very difficult for us to remember more than 3 or 4 things at a time. But we can remember more things if we organize them into small groups. For example, we remember phone numbers as groups of numbers (306-444-2222).
So, instead of preparing a To Do list with 12 items, we should group the information – 3 phone calls, 3 emails, 3 household chores, etc. That will make it much easier for us to remember.
The same principle applies to communications. We should avoid long, bulleted lists, grouping the items under sub-headings instead. And rather than creating a web page with 12 menu options, we should have 4 menu items, each of which leads to a further 3 items.
With thanks to Susan Weinschenk, What Makes Them Click