Readability: How to get your writing right and read

What a downer! Your carefully researched and informative blog post is not attracting and holding readers’ interest. Why? It could be the readability.

Readability refers to how easy or difficult a reader finds your writing.

Often, it doesn’t matter if your article has fascinating information, is amusing, or reflects your sparkling personality. If it doesn’t use simple words and sentences, or appears confusing or overwhelming, readers will simply move on.

Here are 10 ways to rev up your writing and reel in the readers:

1. Write a WOW headline

Use powerful and emotive words to make people sit up and take note. Headlines that contain a how-to and pose a question usually do the trick. And emotional headlines attract more shares. Use an online headline-writing tool. We gave you a few options in this post on free tools every writer should use.

2. Make your first words matter

Grab your audience’s attention with your very first sentence. Make it compelling. Once you’ve hooked the reader, they’re more likely to keep on reading.

3. Make your paragraphs short

Blocks of solid text are a turn-off. Long paragraphs make your copy appear dense and difficult to read. Short paragraphs grab readers’ attention. A good guideline is 150 words or less for each paragraph.

4. Keep your sentences short

This is a fool-proof way to make your copy engaging. Sentences that are short and easy to read will pull the reader into the article and keep them there. Where possible, start a new sentence for every point you make. Aim to have no more than 25% of your sentences containing more than 20 words. Remove any unnecessary words or adjectives that are not adding value.

5. Use shorter, ordinary words

Keep your words plain, simple and shorter. Don’t try to impress your readers with your extensive vocabulary – use ‘chat’ rather than ‘confabulate’, ‘huge’, rather than ‘gargantuan’.

6. Use the active voice

Wherever possible, use the active voice. Active verbs will make sentences shorter and clearer. For example, “I wrote this blog post today” is in the active voice, while “this blog post was written today” is passive. Good writers recommend to use passive voice in less than 10% of the article’s total sentences.

7. Break the copy up

Use crossheads to break up the copy and give the reader’s eyes a break. It is recommended to use a crosshead after at least every 300 words of text. Bullet points are another way of breaking up copy. But numbered, listicle style articles (like this one) are by far the most popular online.

8. Guide your reader

Using transition words or phrases, like ‘since’, ‘either’, ‘another’, ‘in addition’, ‘as a result’ provide your reader with direction and connect sentences and paragraphs. At least 30% of the total sentences should contain either a transitional word or phrase.

9. Ban the cliché

Clichés are often the first phrases we elect to use in writing, because we hear and read them all the time. Overuse can make them seem tired. Retire them and use phrases that are fresh, energetic and fascinate your readers.

10. Use the resources

The Internet has plenty of online tools that will analyse your writing and help you improve it for greater clarity and ease of reading. My two favourites are Hemingway Editor and Grammarly.

Did you know that readers read slower online than when reading printing material? And, according to a 2008 study, we read only 20–28% of the words online. So you’d best make every word count!

In a future blog post, I will tell you how to test your writing’s readability using the Flesh-Kincaid readability tests.

Meanwhile, please share what and what doesn’t work for you when it comes to writing online copy. Drop your comments in the box below.


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