Today’s readers are distracted and impatient. They want the information they need as quickly as possible. That’s why whether it’s web copy or white papers, readability is important. As a writer, you can help by creating clear copy that’s easily scanned and understood. Here’s how.
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 you can 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?
If you’re hitting these key metrics, you’ve created readable content.