7 Steps to Editing for Readability

man holding tabletWhether you’re writing web copy, white papers, or proposals, readability is important. Why? Because today’s readers are distracted and impatient. They want to find the answers they need as quickly as possible.
As an editor, you can help readers by creating clear copy that’s easily scanned and understood. Here’s how.
You can download the PDF version here.

STEP 1: ESTABLISH BASELINE READABILITY

  • Run readability statistics in Microsoft Word.
  • Make a note of grade level readability, average words per sentence, and percent of passive voice.

STEP 2: MAKE ORGANIZATION CRYSTAL CLEAR

  • Does your piece start with a clear, descriptive headline and deck?
  • Is the content broken into short, digestible sections?
  • Is each section labeled with an informational subhead? (Ask yourself this: If readers could see only your headline and subheads, would they understand your message?)
  • Is the most important information presented first in each section, subsection, and paragraph?

STEP 3: CHOOSE SIMPLE WORDS

  • Scan every sentence. Without changing meaning, is there anywhere can you replace:
  • Long words with short ones? Complicated words with simple ones? Jargon or business-speak with plain talk? Multiple words with one word?

STEP 4: STREAMLINE SENTENCES

  • Can you break long sentences (i.e., those with more than 14 words) into two or three short ones?
  • Can you turn a long series of points into a bulleted list? Can you convert data-heavy text into a table or figure?

STEP 5: ASSESS VOICE

  • Are you writing in the active voice, where possible and appropriate?
  • Are you writing directly to the reader, using you and we? Are you using contractions to create a more natural tone?

STEP 6: PARE DOWN PARAGRAPHS

  • Are paragraphs short—no more than seven lines long? Do you present one key idea per paragraph?
  • Do you allow one-sentence paragraphs?

STEP 7: SEE HOW YOU’VE IMPROVED!

  • Run readability statistics again.
  • Are you hitting a 9th grade or lower readability level? Is average sentence length 14 words?
  • Is there less than 25% passive voice?

Want to learn more about measuring readability? Check out this post over on the Copyediting blog.
This post is part of a series featuring Dragonfly field guides, tips, and tricks. Feel free to share! 
You can download the PDF version here.

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