Timing for a broadcast script

It’s helpful to know how long the voiceover is going to take before you record it. A common estimate in broadcasting is 180 words per minute. News anchors read at about 150 to 175 words per minute.

Let’s say you have a sequence of three shots, total 15 seconds. How long can you make a VO to cover that?

Some math: 180 (words) divided by 60 (seconds) equals 3 words per second. To cover 15 seconds, you can’t say more than about 45 words. Never try to speed up your talking — that won’t communicate effectively, and you know it. Notice that broadcast anchors read MORE SLOWLY than 180 wpm.

How long is 45 words? What’s something you know or remember that uses only 45 words?

I happen to know that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is exactly 45 words:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Of course, you might not be able to intone that intelligibly in 15 seconds. (It takes me 22 seconds to do it.) Time yourself and see!

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About Mindy McAdams
I teach courses about digital journalism at the University of Florida. I love to travel. I ride a Vespa. You can find me on Twitter (@macloo).

One Response to Timing for a broadcast script

  1. jky44 says:

    We run a voiceover website and have written a tool that helps you estimate the time it takes to read a script. You can check it out at …

    http://www.piehole.ie/pages/script-timer

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