Why it is never a good idea to write in red.

Why do teachers mark their students’ essays with red pens?  Why is a traffic light stop sign red?  And why is it never a good idea to present a sales leaflet with the text written in red?

Or here’s another one. Why do football teams that play in red win more competitions than teams that play in other colours?

First off, let’s go back to basics: does the colour anything is written in, really make a difference?

The answer is yes, as the following experiment conducted on students in many undergraduate courses in psychology, readily reveals.

A set of 20 psychology students are randomly divided into two groups.  The students don’t know which group they are in, or what the difference between the two groups is. 

Each student is given a card to read for 30 seconds, which contains a set of instructions such as

  • Go out of the door
  • Turn left and go to the end of the corridor
  • Go down the fire escape at the end
  • Turn left, walk around the building and come back in via Entrance C
  • Enter room 14 on your right
  • Take a plastic cup and fill it with water
  • Come up the main staircase with the cup
  • Take the cup into room 34
  • Place the cup on the table
  • Take a piece of paper and pen you will find there, and write your name on the paper
  • Place the paper on a table and place the cup with water in it on top, making sure that the cup is not over your name, but is nevertheless on the paper.
  • Return to this room, and say to your lecturer, “Job completed”.  It is important to say these exact words.

One at a time the students are given the card and read it for 30 seconds, before setting out on their journey.  Monitors are placed in several strategic places, checking the progress of each student.

The difference between Group A and Group B is that Group A students have their instructions written in black on a white sheet of paper. Group B students have their instructions written in red on white paper.

It is important to note that the students do not carry the card with them – they have to read the instructions and then hand back the card and undertake the task.  It is also important to note that the students do not know what the test is trying to show, nor that there are in fact two card types – one with black print and one with red print.

The students start their task a minute apart, so that they don’t bump into each other, and those returning are kept apart from those still waiting to go.

The result of the exercise is invariably that the students who get the card with red writing make many more errors (usually about 30% more) than the students who see the card with black writing at the start of the activity.  The students with red are more likely to forget that the drink cup should be on a piece of paper, or that the cup must not cover the writing, or the exact phrase to be used at the end of the task.  Some even take the wrong turning or go into the wrong room.

Which leads back to the question: why is red a problem?  Certainly most of us, if faced with a page of red writing, or indeed even a paragraph of red text, will fail to read it properly. 

The explanations offered for this finding fall into two groups. One explanation says that red is associated with blood, and seeing blood suggests we have an injury and need help – so it is a warning colour.

The other explanation notes that red is at one end of the spectrum of visible light and so is harder to see.

No one knows for sure which explanation is true, or if there is another explanation, but the fact is that red is a problem for most of us.  If you want whatever you are writing and whatever you want to place in store to be read in the future, don’t write it in red.

As to the issue with the football teams, even when all other factors are matched, teams that play in red are found to do better than teams that play in blue, green, white, yellow or maroon.  I’ll leave you to work out why.

If you’re looking for document storage in the West Midlands, we can help. 

There is more information on our website, alternatively call us on 0800 810 1125.

Just how much information is in store?

Actually no one knows how much information we have in store, but there was an estimate published in the magazine Science (a number of copies of which are now in storage) which suggests that in 2007 we had around 295 exabytes.

Now, let me explain. A kilobyte is 10,000 bytes, or to make what follows simpler. 103.

Multiply by 10, and again by 10 and keep going until you get 10 with 18 noughts at the end and you have an exabyte.

Or put another way 1 EB = 1000000000000000000B

Or again, to give another comparison, that is the equivalent of 1.2 billion average hard drives.

The people who did this research included data held on 60 technologies from PCs to DVDs, from credit cards to x ray film, and from books to individual sheets of paper.

Put another way, if all this information were in books, it would be possible to cover all of the USA in 13 layers of books, according to Dr Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California.

Or if we put it all on CDs in a single pile we would have a pile of discs that would go beyond the moon (which means over 250,000 miles).

By 2007 it was said that 94% of all this data was digital – but that still leaves a lot of information in books and newspapers – which is why there is still a place in our society for physical storage facility of paper.

Mind you we are starting to get people leave their old hard drives with us, just in case they need to go back and retrieve something – so storage facilities such as Admiral have all sorts of usage.

The revolution that has put more and more data onto disk can be compared to the revolution brought about by the development of the car, or the introduction of electricity. 

The research that brought us this analysis also suggests that we now broadcast around two zettabytes of data a day.  Which means we have climbed up the scale, for a zettabyte is 1000 exabytes.

What that actually means is that we broadcast around 175 newspapers per person, per day. This is achieved by the fact that each year global computing capacity goes up by something around 60%.

That means that we are soon going to need a number above the zettabyte to have discussions like this.  A zettabyte is 10 with 21 noughts after it.  After that we have the yottabyte which is 10 with 24 noughts after it.

That is 1024

Or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

Just to get a feel for all this the DNA in your body stores around 300 times more information than all the data stored everywhere in the world. 

That is each person.

Quite a lot, really.

If you’re looking for document storage in the West Midlands, we can help. 

There is more information on our website, alternatively call us on 0800 810 1125.