How do I improve my readability


Readability

Motivate readers to read on

In March 2017, Paul Romer decided it was time to start a revolution.

No, the World Bank's chief economist did not join the Occupy movement. He just asked better written reports from his research department. In an internal memo, he announced that he would no longer approve reports for publication if the word "and" made up more than 2.6 percent of the text. Paul Romer explained that this rule - along with other measures - should bring the "importance of focus" more into the perspective of the authors.

What looks like an amusing anecdote at first glance is actually extremely relevant. Like Paul Romer, we also have to plow through texts every day that we understand at best. And in doing so, we develop coping strategies that are anything but ideal. Who reads a 92-page document with the license conditions during a software update? Most of them just give up and hit the "Accept" button. Nevertheless, one should of course know which conditions have been changed. If only we could find out this important information by reading it quickly ...

And this is exactly what you should keep in mind when writing texts - whether you are publishing an essay, legal texts or instructions on how to pitch a tent. Your target audience must get the message across with minimal effort understand can.

The key to this is that Concept of readability. Researchers have developed various systems that give an idea of ​​what level a reader needs to be at to understand your text. There are many tools on the Internet that use these methods, unfortunately mostly for English-language texts. The linguistic formulas on which they are based cannot be transferred seamlessly to other languages ​​because it usually counts the number of characters or syllables in a word.

Of course, you don't always write for a target group with the level of education of young people. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to revise a text with a view to readability. Usually this makes a text more meaningful, clearer and more precise. Here are six tips for better readability:

1 - Shorter, faster, better, more concise

Short sentences are trumps. “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, saw and won) - with this Caesar summed up a whole story in just three words. A sentence should be treated as a unit, each containing a single idea. The fewer ideas that are expressed in a sentence, the more likely it is that the reader will remember them.

Break your text up into short paragraphs. Communicate only one concept or aspect at a time. Give these paragraphs concise headings. This guides your reader through the text from top to bottom and offers a logical transition between the paragraphs.

2 - Be considerate of the mood and the amount of time your readers spend

There is hardly anything better than delving into a contract after a long day at home or comparing extensive product descriptions. Or is it not? Young people tune into late-night comedy shows for their research for good reason: many consider them a credible source - and they are significantly more entertaining than traditional news programs. It is worth taking this into account when writing. Try to turn hard-to-digest, boring, and predictable content into engaging text.

On average, people read only 60% of an online article. So get to the point quickly. Amazingly, internet users share six out of ten articles without reading them first - a key argument in favor of putting some effort into interesting headlines and teasers.

3 - Do you mean me ?! - The target audience is important

It is very important to know who you are addressing and to adapt the language accordingly.

But beware of technical jargon. It can be useful when you want to show that you are familiar with a complicated subject or process. However, if used incorrectly, it will produce exactly the opposite of the desired effect. As Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes, says, "Keep it simple because no one will ever complain about you speaking in clear, easy-to-understand words."

4 - Write well, write often.

Practice creates masters. Good writing is no exception. Research from the world of blogging has shown that the more you post something, the more likely it is that the number of blog subscribers will increase. But before you get into a blogging frenzy, get someone to review your writing. Asking someone else to take a critical look at your text has two benefits: it helps prevent mistakes and it prevents bad writing habits from creeping in.

5 - 注意 !!!

If your text is to be translated into other languages, keep in mind that different readability concepts apply. Without a qualified translator who can find the exact equivalent in the target language, puns, idioms and metaphors can lead to embarrassing missteps. However, do not completely do without these stylistic subtleties, because they make language interesting.

6 - Last step: check the legibility of your text.

It would of course be ideal for a professional editor to check your text. The job of an editor is to make your text perfect by revising the style, tone and terminology. But there are also numerous online solutions that can help you.

A practical online app for English texts is readable.io. It checks sentence lengths and marks words that are difficult to read. Cross out unnecessary content for optimal readability and then have your final score calculated. Have you written a warning for a fire blanket that can only be understood with a university degree? To repeat.

This post was originally written in English and therefore from an English-speaking perspective. Fortunately, there are legibility algorithms for many languages. The Coleman-Liau index works for most European languages. The Viennese factual formula was specially developed for German, while textanalysis-tool.de uses the Flesch value. LIX is very popular in the Scandinavian countries.

Language is an art

And last but not least: Language preferences can be very different, so these tips are not golden rules that can be used always and in any case. It was an attempt to oversimplify complex language that got Paul Romer in trouble at the World Bank. His demand for clarity as well as the "and" rule were seen as too radical: He had to resign from his post.