If you want people to engage with your blogs and emails, you need to make them easy to read.
When it’s too hard to figure out what you’re trying to say, people will quickly click away. They’ll look for another site where they can get the same information with less effort.
Now, readability is partly a matter of design. Have you ever tried to read a site where the text is tiny? Or the main content is in one shade of grey on a background of another shade of grey? Or the page uses so many fonts and text sizes and colours that it’s overwhelming?
It’s not good, right? So design matters. But, for the most part, readability is about the words you use. For example:
- How simple or complicated are your sentences?
- Are you using words that most of your audience will find familiar? Technical terms may be fine if you’re talking to experts. For a general audience, not so much.
- Are the words you’re using everyday ones? Or words that most people would have to look up in the dictionary?
- Have you fallen into the trap of using “nominationalisations”? These are nouns that are formed by taking a verb and adding prefixes and suffixes. (For example, compare “We took all the facts into consideration” with “We considered the facts”.) They have their place, but often just make your writing more difficult to read.
Here are 3 free tools that will give you a sense of how readable your text is.
Readability Tool 1: Automatic Readability Checker
This online tool plugs a sample of your writing into seven popular reading formulas to give you a “consensus” of how easy your writing is to read. There’s a short explanation of how each formula works and the site offers some other tools for calculating grade levels.
Bear in mind that many of these tools don’t take account of the topic or audience, so may give you a “hard to read” score if you’re simply using a lot of long words that your readers are actually very familiar with.
Readability Tool 2: the Hemingway app
This online app not only gives you a reading grade score but also analyses your text and flags up issues. This includes if it thinks:
- you’ve used too many adverbs
- your sentences are hard (or very hard) to read
- you’ve used the passive voice too much
- there’s a simpler alternative to a word or phrase.
As with any tool like this, take its suggestions with a pinch of salt.
Readability Tool 3: Your word processor
Microsoft Word includes the option to get two readability scores at the end of using spell check. To get the scores, you just need to check the option in the Spelling and Grammar section in Preferences.
Google Docs doesn’t include a readability tool, but you can easily get a readability score by plugging the web address of your document into this site. Or you can copy and paste the text into one of the other tools listed above.
Simple checks to identify readability issues in your text are among the steps included in my Ultimate Editing and Proofreading Checklist. Click on the banner to find out more and to get your own copy.