Monday, July 13, 2020

Copyediting: How to Improve Your Readability as a Writer


Readability, What is it?

Simply put, readability is the measure of how easy a piece of text is to read.  This is done by a mathematical equation that can calculate the readability score of any Tweet, blog post, email, article or book.  All you need to do is put your text in a box and a readability tool will do the rest.
  • If your score is 70 or more you're in the excellent range, and will easily be understood by most 7th graders.
  • A score of 50 or more is good, and will be understood by most high school students.
  • If you're in the 40 or less category, a university-educated student will have trouble understanding what you've written.
Can you really judge your writing by a number?

Well no.

Your readability score is a useful starting point, to ascertain whether your writing is going to be understood by most people. However, there is a lot more to learn about readability than it just being a number.  Which is what we're going to look at below.

Being able to communicate your thoughts and ideas is the key to great writing, and the secret to this is being able to write so that your audience understands what you mean.  Your writing should also be simple and uncomplicated to read.

That should be your main objective.  Your readers should be able to effortlessly follow your writing as it guides them through blog posts, tweets, newsletters, books, short stories etc.

You can focus on a number of areas in your writing that will dramatically improve the readability of your text.

1. Write plainly so that your readers can understand

2. Explain complex or new words straightaway

3. Use simple sentence structures

4. Only use one idea per sentence

5. Always right in the active voice

6. Use subheadings

7. Try and include visual elements in your writing

8. Use short pithy phrases

9. Get personal

10. Be an organised writer

11. Add some humour to your writing

Let's start looking at why readability is such a key component of writing.

Why It's Important

Being able to string together a sentence isn't enough if you want to create a book, or write a blog post.  You need to be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas proficiently enough so that your readers will want to continue until the end, and still want more.

It might surprise you to know that if you're finding it difficult to read your own work, how will your readers feel?  If your text is written well you'll have your audience hooked at the outset.

Happy readers = More more money, and an audience wanting more

Look at your writing like a puzzle, you don't want your writing to be too difficult, and your readers need to be able to work out your puzzle as quickly as possible.  In other words you need to write readable content.

You can write long sentences, use complicated language, weird phrases, and foreign words.  Or you can start using simple, short and uncomplicated sentences that will improve your readability.

If you've ever tried reading a book filled with obscure language, or a newsletter that felt like it had no end, then you know what unreadable writing looks like.

Solving a puzzle can seem like fun to begin with, but after a while it loses its shine, and becomes boring, because it's too hard to follow and understand.

Your audience will suffer if they have to start looking words up in the dictionary, or rereading sentences, and your readability level goes straight out the window.

With a little extra effort your writing will soon become readable again, and you'll have no problem getting your points and stories across to your audience. 

So let's look out how to improve your writing readability:

Choose words that are short, instead of longer more, complicated words that may confuse your readers.

You can get your point across just as well if you used a simple word like 'twisting' instead of a more complex word like 'serpentine' to describe something that curves in different directions.  If you start using words your readers have to look up, you'll end up without an audience.

I love learning about new words as much as the next person, but you don't need to use them all of the time.

When you want to get your point or story across, make it short and pithy, not long winded.

2. Explain complex or new words straightaway

Your writing should always be easy-to-read and use language that is straightforward and clearcut, and only, when necessary, use complex or difficult words. Part of your job as a writer is to keep your readers informed at all times about what they're reading about.  Never left scratching their heads in frustration at not being able to understand exactly what words or sentences mean.

Fiction writing allows you to invent new worlds and languages, so why not create your own language and make an index in the back of the book, to give your story an edge. 

3. Use simple sentence structures

In an ever changing world where new words are being added regularly to the English language.  Resist the urge to write long winded sentences.  Instead be kind to your readers and give them something easy to digest, without the need to look it up in a dictionary.  You'll find your audience will be gripped and want to know all about the information and stories you have to tell them.

4. Only use one idea per sentence

Instead of combining all of your ideas into one paragraph, create shorter paragraphs with one idea in each.  You'll find out it's a lot quicker, and easier, and will make your writing more efficient.

5. Always right in the active voice

It's easy as a first-time author to slip into the passive voice, and an immediate sign that your book is not ready for a serious publishing deal.  Literary agents won't give your manuscript a first-look let alone a second one if they find you've written even one sentence in the passive voice.


Active voice: Monkeys adore bananas.
Passive voice: Bananas are adored by monkeys.

Writing in the passive voice takes a lot more effort, and sounds really clunky.

The secret to getting your thoughts across is to use the least amount of words as possible.

6. Use subheadings

Subheadings are a nonfiction writer's best friend, and so should be used generously throughout your writing.  They allow your reader to skip through text and take-in the information they need more quickly.

You could look at a subheading as a lay-by, allowing your reader to absorb the information as they go along, and not be tired out by huge paragraphs and long sentences.

Subheadings will help you stay on track, and stop you from rambling as you write.

7. Try and include visual elements in your writing

Visual elements such as pictures and charts are a useful tool to use, to help your reading retain the information you're trying to share.

8. Use short pithy phrases

Pithy phrases and short sentences are a simple way to be remembered by your readers.

In the media they're known as soundbites, and are highly beneficial to authors promoting their brands and books.

9. Get personal

Use personal language when you're writing, it's an approach used regularly by copywriters and advertisers.  It will bring your writing to life, and is much easier than writing in the 3rd person which is incredibly dull.

10. Be an organised writer

There's nothing worse than reading something that is poorly-organised, especially when it's instructions for building something.

A disorganised work of fiction will end up being a thoroughly boring and confusing read.

Putting things in order will make your book feel like a breath of fresh air.

11. Add some humour to your writing

Sprinkle a little humour in your writing, make your readers laugh every once in a while will help them stay on for the long haul.

Being serious all of the time is tiring, and can make your writing process glum.  It's good to be a little light hearted every now and again, and will be more entertaining to your readers in the long run.

So  Why Does it Matter?

The reading ability of your audience has to match that of the book that's been written.  For example a book on electrical engineering won't be on the same level as a book on self-confidence.  I'm not saying an electrical engineer wouldn't have any interest in a book about self-confidence.  However, generally speaking most electrical engineers will have one or more degrees and a higher level of reading literacy than that of the general public.  For the best result possible your readability should match the literacy level of most of your audience.  It would seem silly to talk down to an engineer, or talk up to Joe Public.

Unless you're writing something for the government, most bread and butter writers write to express not impress.

Let me know your thoughts about readability in the comments below.  
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