Using Science to Make Your Audience Remember What You Tell Them

There is a reoccurring trope in sci-fi where the protagonist takes some drug, has some head injury, or is subject to some government experimentation and then suddenly has complete access to the power of his or her brain (unlike us mere mortals who only can use 10% at a time).

Bradley Cooper did it in Limitless. Scarlett Johansson did it in Lucy.

It’s been done.

It’s also a complete fabrication.

There is no magic pill that will make a person’s brain work better. There are, however, some predictable patterns of how the brain works and learns.

Once you know them, it is easy to structure the way you present your information so that your audience will remember it.

Attention Span

TIME published an article in 2015 making the claim that “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish.”

While it sounds unbelievable, the science is sound:

“Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.”

This doesn’t mean that people can’t retain information after eight seconds. It means that, given the that the stimuli, or what is presented, doesn’t change, a person will typically lose full interest after that time.

Attention Span

Activating Prior Learning

There is a commonly used teaching tool called a KWL chart. Before reading anything, students are to list what they know about the topic(K), and what they want to know about the topic(W). Then at the end of reading, they summarize what they learned (L).

What this does is activates the student’s prior knowledge of the subject so that the new information they read is associated with the old, already encoded information. While it is not always feasible to make your reader fill out a chart every time they read your post or lesson, beginning with common knowledge can help your reader remember the new information to come later.

For example, start with a popular movie or song that loosely relates to your topic.

Activating Prior Knowledge

7 Plus/Minus 2

The average adult can only hold onto 5-9 individual pieces of new information at a time. This holds true in study after study, and is why phone numbers are 7 digits long.

It is possible to get around this by “chunking” information together, but it has to be meaningful. This is why it is incredibly easy to write out the last four digits of your SS on command, but why you may struggle if someone asks for the last 5.

Rule of 7

Primacy and Recency(Firsts and Lasts)

There are dual phenomenons in the study of memory called the primacy and recency effects. Basically, your brain remembers the first and most recent things when presented with new information.

This is a very simple concept that is easily integrated into how you structure your writing. All it requires is a little planning into where you position your information.

Primacy and Recency


  • Break posts into meaningful segments to keep attention

  • Make connections between the information you are presenting and the information your audience already knows

  • Stack the most important in the beginning of your piece

  • Don’t add more than 7 topics in your piece


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