6 easy ways to improve readability in 5 minutes or less

6 easy ways to improve readability in 5 minutes or less

No matter what topic you write about, your audience should easily understand your points and stay engaged long enough to want to read more from you in the future.

That’s called “readability” – and it’s loosely defined as how easy it is for readers to make meaning from what you put in written words. If they come away from what you wrote not quite understanding what you were talking about, your content’s readability is low.

Unfortunately, low readability can be tricky for writers to catch because they know the point they’re trying to make. (It’s also the reason you miss errors when proofreading your own stuff.)

Giving your content a readability boost isn’t too hard if you follow a few simple rules of thumb. Here are 6 that make a dramatic improvement in your writing, and each takes only 5 minutes or less.

Use shorter sentences

The longer your sentences, the harder they are to follow (in general). So before you publish content you wrote, give the entire piece a quick scan to pinpoint long sentences and shorten them up.

Looking for commas is a good place to start. If you have more than two in a sentence, you might want to break that sentence into two shorter ones by using a period instead of a comma. You can also glance at particularly long paragraphs to find other long sentences hiding in your copy.

Some sentences may need to stay long, but those tend to be the exceptions, not the norm. Keep most of your writing down to short or medium sentences, and readability goes up. As a bonus, your content will also sound more authoritative and confident.

Reduce jargon, acronyms, and “insider” words

Most writers use jargon and acronyms accidentally, assuming their audience knows what these industry-specific words mean. They’re probably right more than half the time, so there’s no need to avoid jargon entirely.

That said, it does help readability to avoid jargon, acronyms, and insider words in favor of simpler ones that everyone can understand, not just those in the know.

If you can’t, you still have an option. You can add a short parenthetical definition of the term after using it the first time to clue in your readers. Those who know the jargon terms will assume you’re doing this for less savvy readers or the mass market, and they’ll be just fine.

Use active voice

Readability suffers when the active voice is not used in your writing. Your writing becomes a little harder to follow. In fact, this paragraph itself has been written in a passive style, leaving the reader with a less readable sentence.

Now look at the alternative, using active voice:

When you don’t use active voice, readability goes down. Readers can’t easily follow your points. I’m writing this paragraph in active voice to increase readability.

Re-read the two paragraphs to see how the first plods along in comparison to the second. (I rest my case.)

Turn complex points into simple maxims

If the points you’re making are in any way complex or difficult to remember, reduce them to a simple, memorable phrase to help make them stick.

Your readers deal with volumes of information coming at them every day. Giving them an easy maxim helps them avoid forgetting what you wrote. (A maxim is a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth.)

For example, I could have wrapped up the previous point about using active voice by adding, “Remember: active voice keeps readers alert.

For your own writing, look at more complex sections and ask yourself how you would “sum it all up” if you had to. You’ll have your easy-to-remember phrase right there.

Stay on point

Another simple way to increase readability is to check your writing for sentences or paragraphs that wander off your main point.

As writers, we often use examples, metaphors and stories to illustrate our points, but it’s very easy to go on a little too long or ramble off track. When that happens, reader attention starts to drift downward until they’re just skimming or skipping to a more cohesive part of your piece.

Go through each piece before you publish it, and look for anywhere you might be straying too far from your important points.

Use the Hemingway App

The Hemingway App is an online tool that lets you evaluate the readability of anything you write. Simply paste in your text, and the app will tell you where you can make readability improvements.

It will tell you which sentences are harder to understand, and it’ll give you an instant assessment of the grade level your content is geared for. When you make changes to your text, the app will automatically adjust and re-score your writing.

Take the app’s recommendations with a grain of salt – after all, it’s just a computer program. Don’t let what it says make you worry about your writing skills. It’s fairly accurate, but final judgment should be in your hands alone.

Boosting your readability is easy when you know how

It doesn’t take much to make your writing more accessible and easier to understand. All you have to do is develop an eye for the little things that bump the reading difficulty level up a notch or two, and knock them back down.

With a little practice and a little editing, writing readable content will become second nature to you – and your audience will find themselves enjoying what you share with them more than ever.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

Join the Discussion. Click Here to Leave a Comment.

  1. Another fabulous and extremely useful article for writers of any genre. Each of these tips for improved readability is important and easy to implement. I didn’t know about the Hemingway app — have just downloaded and look forward to trying it.

  2. Hi James,

    I’m impressed with how you explained each point, with such clarity. They are as clear as spring water. Your writing is impeccable. I wish I could write like you.

    My takeaway here is making simple maxims out of complex points. I’ve never thought of this ’til now. Since I use simple words most of the time when write, I assume every piece I put out would be crystal clear. However, when you made this point, I realized I have to make an effort to check my posts more thoroughly and spot hard-to-understand points. I have to rewrite them.

    I’m pretty sure this will make my posts more readable.

    Thanks for this post.

    I learned a lot!

  3. The part of this piece that really stuck out to me was the Maxims part.

    One of my favorite definitions of them is, “They’re like great sayings that everybody knows.”

    When you can be the person who takes the time and care to create great sayings that all of your perfect prospects come to know, you will make a name for yourself.

    Gary Vaynerchuk strikes me as being the kind of person who has done this for the whole “monetize social media” universe. That boy good! (Couldn’t resist including this Coming To America reference here :) It seems like short, pithy maxims go hand-in-hand with his blunt force, direct and to the point approach to communication…

    “If you live for vacations or weekends, your ish is broken.”

    Gary is raw. “Ain’t nobody got time fa that” defines the pace at which he delivers his messages. The no-BS way he addresses an audience reminds me of The Wolf – Harvey Keitel’s character in the movie Pulp Fiction.

    This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie…

    Vincent: A “please” would be nice.

    The Wolf: Come again?

    Vincent: I said a “please” would be nice.

    The Wolf: Get it straight, Buster. I’m not here to say “please”. I’m here to tell you what to do. And if self-preservation is an instinct you possess, you better effing do it and do it quick. I’m here to help. If my help’s not appreciated, lots of luck, gentlemen.

    Jules: No no, Mr. Wolfe, it’s not like that. Your help is definitely appreciated.

    Vincent: Look, Mr. Wolfe, I respect you. I just don’t like people barking orders at me, that’s all.

    The Wolf: If I’m curt with you, it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast, and I need you two guys to act fast if you want to get out of this. So pretty please, with sugar on top, clean the effing car.

    END SCENE

    If you look at Quentin Tarantino’s movie dialogue, you will see that, like Gary, he is also a fan of precise communication. No fluff. No man left behind.

    I have to profoundly thank you James.

    I dropped by for a casual read and now I’ve walked away with a question that will be at the forefront of my mind when I get to a point I’m trying to make in my copy that could easily be made too complex, vague, or abstract… “How would Gary or Quentin explain this?”

    It’s too bad that it will be damn near impossible to calculate specifically how much money that question is going to put into my pockets. I wish it wasn’t because then someday I’d be able to say, “James Chartrand’s one piece of advice has put $735,049,322.71 into my bank account. Buy all of her ish. Then use it and stare in amazement at the incredibly awesome numbers that keep showing up in your very own bank account.”

    Thank you again James for your damn fine words. I know they have they made a lasting impression on me today.

  4. Hi James,
    I love reading about how to achieve clarity. Especially when you present it so concisely. Thanks for a great post. It’s always helpful to be reminded of the key points you outline here.

  5. Another super helpful post.

    Re: active voice versus passive voice. Using passive voice is very easy for most people including me. I think the reason is because we tend to speak in passive voice.

  6. Quite informative and useful article! There is no doubt when your content is readable, it is easier to consume it. That is why, I fully agree with you that this list of ways can help writers to improve their readability fast and effectively. By the way, recently I have read an article about tools which can check a readability for seeing how easy it is to read your content. Perhaps, you will be interested in reading this article too.

  7. I like this James, sometimes less is more.

    Cutting out the unnecessary words, make you posts much more concise for easy reading.

    These 6 tips are perfect for creating better blog posts, and I can testify that the Hemingway app is awesome! It really helps you increase your readability and writing.

    I personally suggest using Grammarly for writing articles. I used it once and I can never go back (I use it all the time)! :)

    Great post,

    Benjamin

  8. James,

    Excellent post, and I think you said it in the most brief yet succinct manner possible! (That was the idea of the post, wasn’t it? Ha-ha!)

    I’ve been using the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool built into Microsoft Word and I usually set it at the 8th Grade level. I got that idea from Dan Kennedy’s book “The Ultimate Sales Letter” which has an excellent section in it that addresses what you just wrote about.

    I have to tell you, your idea on breaking sentences down if they have two or more commas is an excellent idea. Commas really freak me out because if I go back the next day after having written a post or sales letter, I’ll find all sorts of them to take out.

    I’ll tell you another good place to look at examples of breaking posts or ad copy down into a format that is easy to read is the Reader’s Digest. They really know how to use subheads, pictures and short snappy sentences to get a point across.

    Once again, what a great post and a great lesson.

    God Bless, my friend!

    Elmo

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