With many written material now being read on a screen instead of print, learning how to make your work more readable has become of greater importance than ever. Screens aren’t just more difficult a medium to read on — they also, for some reason, gave readers shorter attention spans. If your writing isn’t easily readable, you can bet you’ll have a hard time convincing readers to give it a chance.
Readability covers many aspects of writing. We discuss some that, we believe, can really help you improve your output on that end.
Organizing Your Content
When readability is an issue, the organization of your content takes on a very significant role. The more organized it is, the easier time a reader will have reading through them. What ways of organizing can you implement?
1. Separate topics into separate sections. For shorter pieces, you can skip this, splitting topics into paragraphs instead. For longer ones, though, having separate sections with their own headers is the easiest way to make your content more readable, giving readers marked points where they can start and stop
2. Use numbered lists to organize erstwhile large information in bite-sized form. A how-to instructional can be presented as a numbered step-by-step piece the same way an opinion piece about music can be put together as a numbered list of your reasons for the argument. Usually, there are plenty of options to organize large information into numbered ( and, sometimes, even ordered) lists — take advantage of that to improve your writing’s readability.
3. Implement a structure. Have a clear structure for your discussion by creating a clear path from beginning to end and make sure the reader knows that path from the get-go. You can give them a clue in the introduction or structure the content so that the path is obvious — either way, the earlier they know, the better they can go through your material.
Most of us would prefer that people read our work from start to finish. Unfortunately, you can’t dictate how people should consume your content. Instead, you have to make room for how they actually prefer to and adjust your output accordingly.
It’s no longer a secret that many people who read on the web prefer to “scan” content. That is, they arrive at a page, then pick and choose which parts of that page they’ll actually read. Yes, even if the entire page consisted of nothing but the logo of a website and a single continuous article, a lot of readers on the web will scroll down, looking at the content diagonally and trying to figure out the gist.
You need to assume your own readers will do just that. That’s why you’re supposed to break up your text into shorter paragraphs — much shorter than you would in traditional printed matter. Using easy-to-notice markings (like subheadings and bullets) will also make it friendlier for scanning.
Think Short And Concrete
If you want to improve readability, you want shorter paragraphs (no more than six lines of text each) and shorter sentences (no more than three clauses — ideally, one or two). Doing otherwise makes your writing look difficult.
Avoid using abstract language and general ideas, especially as lead-in sentences. Many readers will scan text by reading the first sentence or two of every paragraph. Seeing something ambiguous and confusing there won’t really help your cause.
For really long articles (e.g. the multi-page features you see in magazines), try breaking them up into separate posts as part of a series. If they make more sense as one whole piece to be read in one sitting, then break them up into multiple pages the way large content websites like the New York Times does. Too much content on a page can be exhausting to look at — not the most ideal thing to put in front of readers who like to scan before diving right in.
Much has been written about rapport, a favorite subject in sales training and team building workshops. Loosely defined, rapport is a relationship of mutual trust between people. You know how a good salesman can make you feel like he’s a friend who genuinely has your best interest at heart? That usually points to rapport being established between you.
While it’s not often talked about in writing, establishing rapport with your reader can make it easier to get into whatever material you’re talking about. When you establish rapport with readers, you can make them feel that you know where they’re coming from, making it easier for them to take to your piece with an open mind.
To establish rapport in writing, you need to have a clear picture of who your audience is. That way, you can tailor your treatment of the subject so that it’s relevant to their situations in life. If they can’t relate to what you’re writing about, there’s no way rapport can exist. Additionally, it will help if you give the subject a personal feel by writing conversationally, expressing genuine thoughts and feelings, and expressing appropriate personal details.
Format and Layout
Always look at how your content looks on the actual web page, taking in the visual impact it has on the reader. Does it feel easy to get into or does it look intimidating? Account for white space, fonts, color, visual markings and page clutter — how do they all play into the impact of the page?
Start From Where Your Reader Is
That is, you need to write the material such that it starts off right where the reader’s knowledge of the subject is. No unnecessary introduction of the basics and no diving right into advanced concepts — one will bore them and the other will make it too difficult. Instead, begin it from a point where the reader can understand what’s going on immediately.
As with establishing rapport, you’ll need to know your readers well to make this work. If your readers are all over the map when it comes to awareness about the subject, then try to work out a common ground, where it’s not too simple for those with advanced knowledge and not too difficult for those who are barely informed.