Value ratios: a key metric for your book chapters

Business book chapters are made out of ideas, stories, research, argumentation, and advice. To be readable, you need to maximize the stories and advice.

Very simple: look at the chapter draft you wrote. Measure the number of words dedicated to each type of element:

  • Ideas and frameworks. Principles you use to make your points.
  • Stories. Case studies, personal experiences, or examples.
  • Proof points. Research, statistics, citations, and quotes that prove you’re right.
  • Argumentation. Reasoning that backs up your points.
  • Advice: How-to content

Readers find stories and advice enjoyable to read. They’re not so keen on argumentation and proof points.

So compute three ratios:

  • The value ratio: total words dedicated to stories and advice divided by total words in the chapter.
  • The narrative ratio: words dedicated to case studies, stories, and examples divided by total words.
  • The proof ratio: total words dedicated to argumentation and proof points divided by total words in the chapter.

(If you find it difficult to determine which words are which, your chapter is too mixed up. It’s best to separate these elements.)

What the value ratios tell you

The value ratio should be greater than 75%. If it’s not, the chapter will seem talky and be boring to read. If your value ratio is too low, add stories or advice, or cut back on your arguments. (Academics are famous for low value ratios — if you’re an academic writing a popular book, you’ll need to adjust your writing style.)

The narrative ratio should be at least 30%. Without stories, your book will be hard to read. You can find more by talking to clients, plumbing your own experience, or doing secondary research. On the other hand, if the narrative ratio is greater than 90%, you need to add back a little advice. Otherwise, you’ve just created a short story collection.

The proof ratio should be less than 25%. If you spend all your time arguing, you will sound defensive and no one will want to read what you wrote. Edit arguments down by reducing redundancy and organizing content rigorously.

Why these ratios matter

Keep an eye on these numbers. They apply, not just to your book as a whole, but to each chapter separately.

Just as a chef gets a feel for how much oil to use, what spices to add, and how to thicken the sauce, you need to get a feel for the reader’s experience in the chapter you’re concocting. Eventually this type of thinking will become second nature. Until then, count words and use ratios to keep your chapters valuable and entertaining.

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  1. Josh, what kind of variance around these metrics do you suggest? +/- 5%?

    And, are there circumstances where you might overweight in one ratio vs another?

    I find this advice also useful for informational / educational video content.

    1. These are already ranges. For example, value ratio > 75%, narrative ratio between 30% and 90%, proof ratio < 25%. Which is most important depends on whether you are prioritizing utility or readability/entertainment value.

  2. Josh, out of curiosity, have you thought at all about how these ratios might apply to b2b sales? I feel like the concepts apply, but the ratios may differ.