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.