Readability – or how to make your content simple, clear and actionable

February 1, 2019  |  Joanne Lewsley

If you’re a content creator, you’ll probably already know the key principles of readability. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Use simple words and phrases. Reduce ‘padding’ in your writing. Remove sub-clauses. Use active instead of passive tenses.

These all help to refine your content into something that empowers your reader, instead of confusing them.

Sounds simple enough. But when you’re in the thick of creating content, it’s all too easy to get hung up on the message you want to convey, and forget about the way in which you deliver it.

One way to train yourself to think about the readability of your content, while you’re creating it, is to use a couple of readability tools as you go.

The Gunning Fogg index, created in 1944, is one of the world’s best-known readability tests. It measures the number of words that have three syllables or more and gives you the US grade level required to read your content. Simply copy and paste your text into the box to get your score.

Readability experts advise aiming for a grade level of around 8, meaning that 13 to 15 year olds could read it. Anything higher than this, and your content may be pitching to a much smaller audience.

You don’t even need to switch tabs from your word document to check your readability. The Flesch-Kincaid is one of the most commonly used tools around these days, and Microsoft Word has it built right in. Simply switch it on under File>Options>Proofing. Next time you check your spelling and grammar, you’ll see vital stats on everything from average sentence length to how many passive sentences you’ve got.

It also gives you your Flesch reading score. In case you were wondering, this blog scores 8.6, which according to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level guide for marketers (pictured below), is just right for short blogs, social media and email.

Students with their hands raised in the classroom

It’s worth bearing in mind that any of these tools, while useful, can result in a sledgehammer approach to refining and tweaking content.

It’s all too tempting to confuse having content that’s easy to read, with content that’s easy to understand. Your article, message or email could use all the principles above, have an excellent readability score and still leave your users in the dark.

Similarly, you may be writing about a topic that can’t help but use complicated terms and phrases. At Thrive, we create expert health content for a world-renowned pregnancy and parenting site. Writing evidence-based, knowledgeable articles about antenatal scans, pregnancy complications and childhood illnesses means that you simply can’t get away with shortening or simplifying certain terms. So you may need to sacrifice a perfect readability score to get the right information across, and that’s ok too.

This tends to be where feedback is particularly helpful. Whether it’s focus groups, messaging pilots, customer feedback or just a colleague reading over your work, real human feedback is more valuable than anything else.

Auditing your own content in response to that feedback will make you a better copywriter, editor and content creator, and your clients and users will reap the benefits.

At Thrive, we’re well-versed in creating simple, effective content that establishes trust and familiarity between our clients and their users. In short, we do the hard work, so that your user doesn’t have to. Want to know how we can help you make your content more readable? Get in touch.