This seems like a counterintuitive title – of course writing is readable, right? But as much as I’ve seen fundamentally good writing over the years, some of it has been tedious to read – and a lot of it has to do with writers not paying attention to the little details that can make reading a communication an easier experience for the audience.
So here are some ways I consistently use to make my content more readable for my legions of loyal followers (Yes. Legions. It’s documented.).
Grab Their Attention at the Start
You don’t need to be cute or corny, but any communication – whether internal or external – needs something to make the reader take notice. Your headline, subject line, etc. needs to make your audience know that they need to read further. There are too many examples and scenarios to reference to do justice to every situation you encounter, but the bottom line is make sure you pay attention to commanding the attention or curiosity of your reader right from the get-go.
Get to the Point Quickly
As someone who has worked for several years in internal communications, I have seen intranet articles, emails, etc. that seem more like the point was to show off someone’s writing prowess rather than say something meaningful. You’ve probably encountered this – three paragraphs of flowery writing referencing missions, visions, and/or values, and finally getting to the point of the communication in paragraph four.
I’ve rarely seen the point of this approach. Why not just start off telling the reader what the main point of the communication is? For instance, “There has been an important change to our executive structure,” or “We’re writing to tell you about an update to your policy.”? Let your audience know why they should read on. There’s no point in making them work for it.
As you can see, I’m a big fan of subheadlines. It should be kind of obvious why: It makes the communication scannable. In a few seconds, the reader can see what they’re going to learn in each section. Whether certain parts do or don’t pertain to them, they should be able to know that right away. With busy schedules and short attention spans of today’s audiences, the subheadline is an invaluable tool for the writer. Imagine if I didn’t use subheadlines here. You’d have to (yes… you would HAVE to!) read the entire piece to get all the points. With my subheadlines, you can decide whether you want to read every part or just the ones that you think would help you most.
Subheadlines are great ways to achieve scannable content, but they should be complimented by line breaks. There should be no question as to which section is which. This seems like a “no duh” point, but it can make the difference between a well structured communication and what looks like a long blob of words. This can often be a formatting issue (a graphic designer needing to increase leading in a layout, for instance), so make sure if someone else is responsible for laying out your copy, they’re doing it justice.
Short Words Vs. Long Words
Sometimes we can’t help but show off our expansive vocabulary, but getting back to the point of the short attention spans of today’s reader, the more readable you can make your piece, the better. After all, we’re dealing with an audience that has now grown accustomed to terms like “LOL” and “TBT.” They want quick, digestible content, and throwing in a lot of $10 words might be poetry to your eyes, but you run the risk of turning off your readers.
Be Active, Not Passive
A big pet peeve of mine: passive voice. I’m not sure why some writers would rather say, “We will be moving to the other office location on September 1,” rather than, “We will move to the other office location on September 1.” It might seem like a minor detail, but the latter makes the sentence flow better and sounds less wishy-washy. In most instances, don’t be making a point… make a point.
I’ve become a big fan of bulleted lists over the last few years. They make it much easier to organize lists in your content and, in keeping with the theme of this post, make your communication easier to read. If you have several items to recite, consider the bulleted list rather than making the audience read a longer sentence and paragraph. Now, don’t go hog wild. You don’t want a bulleted list every other paragraph, unless there’s a specific, pragmatic purpose. But become friendly with your bulleted lists for the sake of your reader.
What are some of the ways you make sure your communications are easier to digest for the audience? Share your thoughts and advice in the Comment section.
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