People track all sorts of things on their blog. They track readership, SEO, shares and tweets, comments and a whole lot more. One thing that does not seem to get mentioned much, however, is the readability of a piece. That is a shame because that statistic is so much more important than most of those other ones.
In fact, in some ways, readability (and novelty) is the cause of all of the other stats I just mentioned. If your audience can not understand what you are writing, then they will not be able to understand what you are saying. And if that is the case, how are they ever going to share any of it?
So what is this readability thing anyway?
Readability is – as you might suspect – related to how readable a piece is. In order to measure readability, some people have developed some pretty advanced formulas. These take the number of syllables per word, average sentence length and so on to figure out how easy your text is to read.
Fortunately, you do not actually need to decide which formula you can use. Most sites apply a bunch of them to your text. For example, readable.io will run several of them for you and give you your score on each one. Though there will be some variation between them, in general, they will give you a close enough idea that it does not matter which one you use (so you might as well use all of them).
Even better, when you use these site (or others like the Hemingway Editor) the will also give you direct help in boosting your readability score. How do they do this? Well, they will highlight specific types of words that you should consider changing. They will also point out sentences that are too hard and should be tackled. And then there is passive voice, which really complicates sentences if used overly much. Then you can take steps to reduce these problems.
But my readers are all adults, why should I care?
Readability is not just about making sure that your readers can actually read what you have to say. It is also about something known as fluency heuristic. The idea is that the brain of readers has a very simple (and completely inaccurate) rule of thumb. This states that the easier something is to read, the more truthful and accurate it is and the more attention they should pay to it.
It also goes the other way, when people think something is difficult to understand, then they will be more skeptical and critical of what is being said.
Now that has obvious repercussions for you and your site – particularly if you are trying to sell them something, as it means that the more difficult your writing the more skeptical your audience will be.
Now that can’t be the point.
How to improve readability
Now obviously, the first thing that you should start using are the two apps I mentioned above that will let you measure how fluent your writing is. These will immediately point out problems that you are having and how to resolve them.
Of course, they will not offer you any solutions. So I will do that for you:
There are two ways that you can tackle hard to read sentences.
- Find difficult words and replace them with easier ones. This is something that you should always be doing, truth be told, but it is especially the case in a run- on sentences.
- Cut long sentences up. The easiest way to do this is during the editing process to take sub-sentences and taking them out. I’m often surprised by how many thoughts people try to squeeze into one sentence. It isn’t necessary and it makes what you’re trying to say very hard to understand.
Let me give you an example:
New York, a city located on the east coast of America, was originally a Dutch colony which was formally taken over by the British in the Treaty of Breda in the year 1667 and became part of the USA when that country gained its independence in 1776.
Can be turned into:
New York is a city located on the east coast of America. The city was originally a Dutch colony, which was taken over by the British in the Treaty of Breda in the year 1667. It became a part of the USA when that country gained its independence in 1776.
That turned it from one sentence into three. Did those extra periods make those sentences less readable or more so? Probably more so, right?
Yes, sometimes it can be hard to cut up sentences. At the same time, you should still try – not just for your audience, either. It can also help you improve your own thinking process as it disentangles different thoughts from each other so that you can consider each in turn.
Readability and engagement
Sure, if you can write a highly engaging text, then you do not really need to worry about readability that much. People will be so engaged by what you have written that they will work their way through the words you used to write it.
The thing is, writing engagingly is not easy. It is incredibly hard. Writing a text that is more readable, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward to do. There are apps to help you out and it is not that hard to use a few more periods.
What is more, engagement and readability are closely related. After all, the easier a text is to read, the more time you have got to engage your audience and whisk them away. For that reason, work on making your text more readable. This will give you space and the time you need to engage. And from there, the world is your oyster.