Readability: It's More Important Than You Think

It turns out it’s not what you say, but how you say it – and who you say it to – that really matters.

At last week’s NEOUPA readability presentation, Angela Colter discussed the importance of readability in today’s content. She emphasized that if you can’t create copy that is clear, concise and enjoyable to read, no one is going to pay attention to it. She also pointed out that people can read and understand every word in a paragraph, but have absolutely no idea what it means.

Seems fairly obvious, right?

Well, to a certain extent readability really is common sense. If you’re writing copy for a particular audience, you need to make sure it’s not only engaging, but also intellectually appropriate and relevant to their area of interest.

Despite how simple this rule sounds, many online marketers don’t pay attention to it. They either talk above their audience, or they just talk in circles. Either way, readers lose interest quickly, causing the information – and the website it’s on – to lose its purpose.

Bottom Line: If you really want to speak to your audience, you need to write using plain language.

What are the Plain Language Guidelines?

Plain language? You may think that sounds like another way to say boring, but that’s not the case. When you write in plain language you aren’t writing dull pieces no one wants to read.  You’re writing clear, concise copy that is easy and enjoyable for readers to follow. You aren’t making them work to understand your message. You are using direct language to answer their questions, solve their problems or describe how your product/service will benefit them.

In other words, you’re giving them exactly the information they want, right when they want it.

The federal government thinks plain language is so important they’ve dedicated an entire website to it: plainlanguage.gov. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has their own document too. Plain language is synonymous with clear communication, which is exactly what you want between your company and its target audience.

How to Communicate Effectively with Your Audience

It’s important to keep in mind that not every audience will understand the same kind of plain language. You may write a clear and fantastically concise piece about medical malpractice, but if you present it to a room full of preschool teachers the effect will be lost.

Your audience should dictate the writing you produce. If it’s not readable for them, there’s no point in writing it. Be sure you aren’t confusing readability with the “dumbing down” of content, however. Readability isn’t about making something less sophisticated; it’s about making it appropriate for the audience who will be absorbing it.

Angela presented some helpful readability tests marketers can use to see how readable their copy truly is. You can access these resources at her website: angelacolter/readability. She also wrote a helpful article about the value of testing content that can be found here.

So the next time you sit down to write something for you or your clients’ website, take a few minutes to think about the intended audience. Ask yourself what information would be most helpful for them, and then present it – in the most clear, concise and readable way possible.

*Image provided by kaburke10 on Flickr.

About Abigail Birmingham

Abigail Birmingham is a Creative Leader for Fathom's education team specializing in video production, creative design, and content strategy. She is passionate about helping clients tell a great story and engage with their audience. She is a strong believer in the power of captivating and creative content as a driving force in an effective marketing strategy.

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