5 reasons why text is better than video

Image: YouTube

Video content is taking over the world, or so we’re told. Text is old-school — video stands out and people share it. So who needs to learn to write?

You do.

If you think the future of communications is video, you’re way off.

Here are five reasons why, for nearly every communication you’re planning, text is better than video.

1. Text is scannable.

How long does it take to figure out what’s in a 5-minute video?

Five minutes.

Sure, you can scrub it back and forth with your mouse, but you’re not really going to find out why it’s important to you.

A well-designed piece of text content — whether it’s an email, a blog post, an article, or a white paper — reveals its structure. It has headings, bullets, quotes, links, and graphics. You can find the part you’re interested in and skip the rest — or skip the whole thing if you quickly figure out it’s worthless. Try that with a piece of video.

2. Text is searchable

You can put keywords in a video. But text has the keywords already there. People will search for it using terms you didn’t even realize were important when you wrote them.

3. Text isn’t disruptive

Raise your hand if you’ve become annoyed when visiting a news site and hearing video autoplay.

Most of us work quietly in offices. We want to consume content when we choose to view it — not when it chooses to interrupt us.

You can consume text without headphones and with the sound off. That’s useful in a world where we share space.

4. Text is easy to create and edit

How do you create text? In your email program? In Microsoft Word? In Google Docs? In Facebook? There are a thousand ways, because everything includes a text editor.

If someone sends you text, you can copy it, paste it, edit it, or comment on it. It’s infinitely malleable.

It’s easy to turn bad text into good text by editing.

While it’s easy to create crappy video, it’s not easy to fix it. Good video is far more expensive and time-consuming to create than good text.

5. Text is timeless

I can still read text that somebody wrote in 1971 and get something out of it. There are some new words now, but the punctuation, the headings, and the way we communicate ideas remain pretty much the same as they were.

Text isn’t the least common denominator — it’s more like the lifeblood of communication. Even now, in the video era, it’s the one medium everyone can count on.

When virtual reality and branching video and interactive experiences catch on — along with who knows what that’s up next — we’ll still have text.

Coders document their work in text. Chatbots use it, too. Writing text and getting information from it is going to be a core skill for workers in 2050 as it is now. Count on it.

Why the Web thinks video is better

If you search the Web for “text is better than video,” you get a lot of articles about why video is better than text. But read them carefully and you’ll find the main reason is “video is better at disrupting what you’re doing, intruding upon your work, and keeping your attention.”

That’s not better, it’s just louder and more interruptive.

If your objective is to actually communicate, learn to write better. Video has its uses. But if you can’t write well, there’s a ceiling on your future success.

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  1. I am much more inclined to read (or scan) a news article than listen to a news article in video. Video takes too long. Also people get self indulgent in video, drag it out longer than need.

    The one exception is when the video shows something with visceral impact, such as a war situation.

    1. Many news site videos force-play an advertisement before the main article. This also wastes time. I can read much faster than I can watch a video. When I want news, I prefer to read it. When I want to learn how to do something, watching a video is a faster teacher than the amount of words necessary to accurately describe the task. Each communication style has its advantages.

  2. Interesting. I just read that Facebook is favoring text over video because they want to encourage conversations. I enjoy a lot of online courses (Coursera, EdX) and the usual setup is video lecture with transcription. I watch the video on 2X to get to the parts I want to learn, and then select and paste from the transcript for my notes. If the courses were all text, I probably wouldn’t read through them all, especially online, but the combination with short videos keeps me engaged (otherwise, I’d just read a book.) Most of the instructors are reading scripts they’ve written, not speaking off the cuff. As for news, I’d rather read what a politician said rather than watch them talk — one in particular (and I’m barely reading his words at all anymore since it’s usually meaningless word salad with no point or conviction) — but I digress…

  3. Josh, this post is really encouraging to me. I’ve often thought I’m in the uber-minority because I prefer text to video – especially because I can read it on the go. Great affirmation with excellent, practical reasons why text has so much value. Thank you!

  4. Lord, yes. Thank you. About once a month someone will call me and say, “We need more videos on our website.” I’ll pull up the stats on the videos already there and reveal the limited number of hits for each one currently on the site. Then I’ll remind the person that their budget had better be in the $6,000 to $10,000 range to produce the 5-minute video they want. Then I ask them the “why, who and what” questions to hear their reasons for why video would be better than text and photos. Most of the time they realize that what they really need is something text driven. But it won’t prevent them from asking again in about a month.

    I’m going to email a link to this blog post to all of my clients now.

  5. Most of this is very strong, but video is increasingly searchable as easily as text; it’s easy for major video platforms to take a transcript and scan it. Additionally, video contains far more data that can be searched and indexed – every object, element of a scene, every face etc. I love reading text (like your blog), but the search-ability is no longer such a valid critique. A picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, and a video is typically shot at least 30 images per second.

    1. I think what you say will be true, but it is not quite true yet. A Google search does not know what’s in the transcript or whether there is an image of Matt Damon in the video. Yet.

  6. I would suggest a sixth reason is that people tend to waffle more in a video than they do with the written word, which is a time-waster for me.

  7. Absolutely. Text is better than video . You also get to read a text at your own pace but for the video, the pace is set by the characters

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  9. Many text sites are annoying when they try to get “fancy,” and use gray text on a light gray background. Use black letters on a white background! Then I can read it!