Content Readability

When writing content for a webpage, one rule should always be followed: make it easy for readers to understand. And to make that happen, it's necessary to make the text easy to read. After all, why put information out there if people can't grasp it?

Content creators should consider something important: how to make web pages easy to skim and information overload. Americans deal with about 100,000 words daily, which is like reading "The Hobbit" every day. This can lead to information overload. Making a webpage easy to skim avoids content overload and helps pique people’s interest. It also makes reading smoother. Readers are more likely to return when they want to learn more.

Writing simply doesn't mean you're talking down to people. In fact, most folks appreciate getting information quickly. So, simplifying things actually makes you look smart!

When it comes to making content easy to understand, remember these guidelines:

Never write the content directly on the page you are creating. Begin writing on another program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Next, use an available tool to check the readability. Once complete, paste the content (using paste as text) onto the page.

Readability Level Tools

A readability tool scans your writing and gives you a grade. The grade informs the writer how much cognitive power it takes to read the information. Regardless of the target audience, writing at an eighth-grade level is a great goal. 

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App is a helpful tool for checking the ease of understanding in your writing. It's named after the famous author Ernest Hemingway, known for his clear and simple writing.

The app provides feedback by highlighting areas that need attention. You can hover over these highlighted parts to get suggestions. Plus, it updates your readability score in real time.

Microsoft Word

Most people are familiar with Microsoft Word. It comes with a tool that checks how easy your writing is to understand. After doing a spell and grammar check, Word gives you a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. However, it doesn't offer suggestions to make your writing better.

Yoast SEO in WordPress

All Michigan Tech blogs using WordPress have Yoast SEO readability options. When in a post, click the Yoast SEO boxed y button located on the top right of the screen. Next, click the readability analysis drop-down. Once there, you will see your readability analysis. Yoast will also give suggestions and a Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score

Writing Tips

Use simple, active, staccato sentences. Avoid jargon and fussy words. Keep the text down to earth, straightforward, confident, and a little quirky.

You might recognize these tips–they're from the Michigan Tech Brand Guide. The guide encourages honest and purposeful writing. It's all about how you express yourselves, and it's important for all your messages to have the same tone. For other useful writing tips see Writing for the Web.

Readability scores are improved by using:

  • Clear Headings
  • Bulleted Lists
  • Active Voice
  • Thought Continuity

Clear Headings

Clear and well-placed headings make it easier to skim through an article. When people look for information, they might jump around before they find what they need. That's where simple, clear headings help. They let readers quickly scan the article, and it helps them remember the information better. 

The American Psychological Association suggests “Make your headings descriptive and concise. Headings that are well formatted and clearly worded aid both visual and nonvisual readers of all abilities.

Bulleted Lists

Long sentences packed with a lot of info can be hard to digest. This is especially true when a reader has already spent a lot of time with similar content. To make it easier, consider using bulleted lists. They promote skimming and help readers single out the important stuff.

According to the Nielsen Norman Group, "bulleted lists are one of the most powerful methods for supporting efficient reading on the web."

Active Voice

Active voice writing keeps a reader's attention. It can also clarify messages. An example of active vs passive voice is as follows:

Ground-breaking research is performed by the students at Michigan Tech. (passive voice)
Michigan Tech students perform ground-breaking research. (active voice)

Using auxiliary verbs creates a passive voice. When possible, try avoiding the use of to be auxiliary verbs, such as:

  • Have
  • Has
  • Had
  • Do
  • Does
  • Did
  • Shall
  • Should
  • Will
  • Would
  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Can
  • Could
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been

Thought Continuity

Avoid packing too many ideas into one paragraph. Each paragraph, whether long or short, should focus on one idea. When you start talking about something new, begin a new paragraph. This way, your writing flows smoothly, and it's easier to understand. Cognitive dissonance may occur when inconsistent thoughts are presented within paragraphs. 

In summary, you can write intelligent and informative content that's also easy to read. In fact, this article was written at a sixth-grade level!