Make Your Text More Accessible: Improve Readability With These Simple Steps
Ever come across an article that gives you a headache just trying to understand it? Chances are, it’s got low readability.
Readability refers to the ease with which a reader can understand a written text. It is often determined by the complexity of the words and sentences used, as well as the structure of the sentences and paragraphs.
As a content writer with over a decade of experience, I understand the importance of readability. Often, focus is placed on how important readability is to increase SEO scores. Of course, we all want our articles to perform well, but why is readability so important and how can you increase it?
Why is Readability Important?
Ultimately, readability is about accessibility. By increasing readability, you are making it easier for more readers to understand and digest your content.
Clear, readable writing means readers can focus on the message, rather than struggling to figure out complex or confusing words or phrases. Easy-to-read content increases engagement and encourages readers to stay on the page longer.
Write For Your Audience
If you know who is going to be reading what you write, then you can better tailor it to them. Identify your target audience, figure out their literacy level, and then write to their level.
Identify Your Target Audience and Their Literacy Level
Knowing who you’re writing for can help you set realistic expectations for engagement — whether that’s measuring how well your article performs on Google, how long a reader stays with your content, or if it supports your wider marketing goals.
For example, if you're writing an article about gardening for beginners, your target audience may be people who don't have much knowledge on the subject and are looking to learn. In this case, you’ll want to keep your language simple and use common terms. The gardening beginner reading your article will be more likely to read all of your useful advice if they can understand it.
Identifying who your audience is will help you tailor your message and readability to suit them. Keep in mind that your readership is diverse. It can include people with learning difficulties, different grade levels of reading, experts, people for whom English is a second language, as well as total beginners. If you can identify your target audience, your writing will be all the better for it. It’ll help you make decisions on how to structure your content and make your writing more accessible.
Understand Different Grade Levels of Writing
The reality is that over 54% of Americans have a literacy level below sixth grade. When considering readability, grade levels refer to the average number of years of schooling required to understand your text. Readability scores and grade levels are determined by the Flesch reading ease test.
Generally, it’s recommended to keep your writing at a grade level of 9. This is considered Plain English and fairly easy to read, with a readability score of 70-60, out of 100.
Reading material that is too complex can be intimidating for readers and cause them to lose interest. Remember that readability is all about accessibility. When writing for your target audience, being aware of different grade levels is important. It will allow you to tailor your text to the average reader, making it more accessible to everyone.
Consider the reading level of your target audience and adjust your writing if it is too advanced for them.
Analyze Your Content with a Readability Score Tool
Readability scores are important for determining how easy it is for readers to understand your content. The most commonly used formula to determine readability is the Flesch reading ease score, which is on a level of 0-100. Higher scores indicate more readable content. Learn how to calculate the Flesch Reading Ease score here.
Using a readability score tool can help you identify weak spots in your writing. Once you know your score, you can adjust your writing to make it easier for readers to understand where necessary.
There are lots of tools out there to help you review your content, including Wordtune’s panel feature that includes Editor’s Notes. It provides helpful tips on how to adjust your writing for clarity, fluency, and how to enhance your vocabulary. You’ll also see corrections for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, alongside instances of repetition or places where a word is missing, or where you have used the wrong word.
The Hemingway app is another great tool that assesses your text using the Flesch method and provides you with a grade level rating. You won’t need to calculate anything, as the app does it for you!
Content Structure and Formatting
Once you’ve figured out your target audience, it’s time to do the actual writing! Below are some tips that will help you boost your content’s readability.
Write in Active Voice
Why is it so important to write using active versus passive voice? Simply put, it helps with clarity in writing.
Active voice means that the subject of the sentence is performing the action. This means that readers get a better sense of who is doing the action. By contrast, passive voice can make who is performing the action unclear. Because of this, active voice is more direct and concise, while passive voice can be ambiguous and confusing. Active voice also helps to make your writing more engaging and easier to read.
Use Short Sentences and Paragraphs
Short sentences and paragraphs convey your message quickly and concisely. This makes it easier for readers to quickly digest the information. Use shorter sentences when possible. Break up longer paragraphs into multiple shorter ones.
Remember that people are generally busy and are looking to find easy-to-digest information that answers their questions quickly. Be clear and direct with your writing. By using simple language, your message will be easy to understand. You want to make sure that your audience can easily grasp the information.
Use Subheaders to Break Up Text
When optimizing an article for readability, it helps to break up the information you’re providing. If audiences are met with a wall of text, it can be off-putting. Subheaders are a great way to organize information, give readers a break from reading, and break up the content in a way that is easy to digest. Using subheaders will help readers scan the article quickly and find the information they are looking for.
Subheaders can also be used to highlight key points and provide visual cues to readers. This makes the content easier to navigate and increases the overall readability of the article. For instance, subheaders can be used to break down a complex topic into smaller and more manageable sections. For example, if you’re writing an article about How Cheese is Made, your subheaders could be "History of Cheesemaking," "Modern Methods of Cheesemaking," and "Regional Differences in Cheesemaking."
Using correct header structures helps search engine algorithms better understand and rank the content. Content that “ranks highly” means that it comes up higher in Google search results. This is great if you’re looking to promote your business or website, as more people are likely to come across it.
Generally speaking, Header 1 (H1) is reserved for the title of your article. After that, you'll use Header 2 (H2) for sections within your text.
If you have subsections that belong to the same topic as your H2, then you'll use H3, H4, and so on. This helps to break up ideas and information into bite-size chunks that are more understandable. Just take a look at this article, and you'll notice the differences in headings used!
Include Bullet Points When Appropriate
By including bullet points, you’ll make your article more scannable. It allows your reader to quickly pick up highlights and key information.
Readers tend to scan an article first and are more likely to stick with it if they can see bullet points included. They make the article look organized and well-structured, which encourages your audience to keep reading.
Avoid Unnecessary Jargon and Acronyms
Don’t confuse your readers! It’s tempting to use jargon and acronyms, especially if you’re writing about something you’re an expert in. You might think it makes you sound smart and authoritative. If you’re writing for an audience of other experts, then this can be useful. But, this type of writing isn’t great for wider accessibility. By using jargon and acronyms (and not expanding on them) all you’re doing is excluding potential readers.
Instead, simplify your language and expand acronyms to let your reader in on your information. Explaining a subject in simple terms doesn’t mean your text isn’t authoritative.
Vary Sentence Structure
No one wants to read sentences that all start the same way. It’ll bore your readers! Try to change up your sentence structure regularly to keep the reader interested.
Sentence structure is how ideas combine in a sentence. Sentences can be classified based on the type and number of clauses used. That sounds very complicated, but there are four common structures that we’ll break down.
These structures are based on the combination of dependent and independent clauses. Dependent clauses cannot stand alone and must be combined with an independent clause to form a complete sentence. Independent clauses, however, can stand alone.
Varying sentence lengths and structures can help you make your writing more interesting and engaging. You can also use different types of punctuation to create a variety of effects. Finally, consider using rhetorical devices such as metaphors and similes to further enliven your writing.
With these tips and examples, you’ll increase your readability scores in no time. Make your writing more accessible, easy to understand, and more engaging by keeping your writing simple. Make your sentences concise, avoid jargon, and include subheaders to break up your text. Remember that readability is great for accessibility and will keep your audience reading for longer!
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.