The modality effect refers to the superior retention of recent items following auditory as opposed to visual presentation. An experiment is reported in which the free recall of lists of short and long words was compared. The size of the modality effect was found to be independent of word length. From this it is concluded that the origin of the effect is at or beyond the level of analysis concerned with word identification. On the basis of these results it is suggested that a single process underlies the modality and the recency effects.