Why readability means drawing in, not dumbing down
Simple writing is proven to build trust, make you appear more intelligent, and also boost your SEO rankings more effectively than using complex, weighty language. Even highly-educated science, tech and medical experts prefer simple information as it saves them time working out what you’re trying to say.
Good readability can also help your writing be more inclusive, particularly if you’re writing for a mass audience. The higher your readability score, the less likely it is to exclude people without a certain level of education, or those who speak English as a second language. Short sentences and familiar language can also benefit neuro-diverse readers with autism or dyslexia. Not to mention senior readers who may be confused by jargon.
Paying attention to readability isn’t about dumbing down what you have to say. It’s about ensuring your writing is drawing in as much of your intended audience as possible.
A readability 101
If you’re not familiar with readability, it’s a measure of how easily a piece of writing is understood. Readability is usually scored by computer, and the two most widely used tests are the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.
For a standard written document you should be scoring between 60 and 70 out of 100. (That’s roughly the same level of ease as the BBC website, for comparison.) If you find you’re scoring lower than that, here are some quick ways to give your readability a boost:
- Give long sentences a haircut. Lengthy sentences can be hard for readers to follow. Shorter ones help keep them on track and ensure your message is clear.
- Swap passive voice for active voice. Writing in the active voice makes your sentences more direct, and surprise – more active. It also stops readers getting muddled, because it’s clear who the subject of the sentence is and what they’re doing.
- Lose any complicated words or jargon. Replace any complex language or business-speak with more familiar words that everyone is likely to know.
Inclusion isn’t a nice-to-have
The importance of readability and using inclusive language has become more apparent since the pandemic began.
A recent study on COVID-19 communications found that key public health documents from the UK, US and Australian governments failed to meet recommended readability standards. What that means is though these documents were aimed at the general public, they were too complex for the average person to understand.
This shows that good readability is often essential and not a nice-to-have. Especially when it can help people access and understand important health information in a crisis.
By taking the time to write clearly and inclusively, you put your readers first. So no matter their native language, education level, neurodiversity or age, they can feel part of the conversation you want to have – not left out of it.
Interest in inclusivity piqued? Take a look at our Language of inclusion virtual academy training session.