Keep your writing simple to keep your readers engaged

When you hear someone say “write simply,” do you feel like they’re asking you to treat your readers like third graders? Don’t worry. Writing simply isn’t about writing down to your audience. It’s about writing to engage readers and move them smoothly through your content.

How do you do that? Several techniques can make your writing easier to read and more approachable. Read on to see how it works.

Use plain language

Plain language is best described as writing more like you speak. Most of us wouldn’t use big, complicated words when talking to someone. We use common, everyday words, and we do it to get our point across quickly.

Now, we do occasionally come across people who use big words when they speak. We listen politely at first, but it doesn’t take long before we’re looking for a way out. Why? Either we’re bored or it’s too much work to listen. The same thing happens when we read. If the language is complicated or technical, we check out and move on.

To make sure you’re using plain language, avoid technical terms and jargon. Depending on your audience, you may be able to use some technical language but try to keep it to a minimum. Same with jargon. Even in a business setting, jargon tends to muddy the waters and make readers roll their eyes.

In addition to technical terms and jargon, avoid slang, regional terms, cliches and text speak like lol. Just say what you mean using everyday words.

Use shorter words

Your writing automatically becomes easier to read when you use shorter words more often. The goal is to use words that are one or two syllables long. Each syllable added to a word makes it more difficult to read.

Using shorter words doesn’t mean your writing will be boring. Word selection becomes much more important, and short words can pack a lot of punch. When writing sales copy for instance, select words that move your reader to action. Using words like free, easy and cheap are some examples of impact words for sales writing. This list offers some great words to add more impact to all types of writing.

Use shorter sentences

Along with using shorter words, use shorter sentences to increase the simplicity and readability of your writing. Reading comprehension changes as the number of words in each sentence changes. Readers have 100 percent comprehension with sentences up to eight words long. Comprehension drops to 90 percent with sentences up to 15 words and a surprising 50 percent at 28 words. The best way to keep your writing simple is to limit sentences over 20 words.

Varying sentence length in each paragraph keeps your writing interesting. Use short sentences to make important points so your readers will remember them. Use longer sentences for more detailed but less important information.

Test for readability

To see your progress in writing more simply, put your content through a readability test. You’ll find several tests to choose from online or use the readability analysis tools included in most word processors.

Flesch reading ease and Flesch-Kincaid grade level scores are the most popular measurements among several tests used by Microsoft Word tools. The Flesch reading ease score starts at 100 as the easiest and gets harder as the score goes down. It measures sentence length and word length by syllables. Try to keep this score over 50 for good readability.

The Flesch-Kincaid grade level score measures the grade level necessary to comprehend the text. A lower score corresponds with a lower grade level. For content read by adults, a seventh-grade reading level is a good score to shoot for.

A final word

Using plain language, shorter words and shorter sentences will put you firmly on the road to writing simply. Work on these tips regularly. Your readers will be glad you did.

Don’t miss future tips

I’ll be posting future blogs with many other ways to make your writing more readable and interesting. Be sure to follow my blog to make sure you don’t miss any. And keep practicing!


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