“Write shorter sentences.”
The shorter the sentence, the easier it is to convey the message. Would you agree?
We can skim read words and know their meaning – without giving them much thought.
Complex sentences and complicated topics require a deeper level of concentration than straightforward ones.
They require us to dig deep into our mental processes to work out what the words mean.
If a sentence consists of more than 15 words, our memory runs out before we finish the sentence.
This is nothing any of us can change. It’s the way the brain works.
Cognitive processes control how we absorb information. Our mental capacities are limited.
Paying attention requires mental effort.
We can process only one message at a time.
The myth of multi-tasking
No-one can focus on 2 things at once.
If your sentence includes 2 topics, its meaning will be lost. Your reader may leave your site in search of one where the information is clearer.
If we can’t change how people read, what can we change?
We must change the way we write.
We can choose to write in plain English. Or we can choose to write sentences which need to be figured out.
If you’d like to be understood, you will need to write with helpful clarity.
User Experience Specialist Marieke McCloskey tells more in her video “Intro to UX. Fundamentals of usability.
Relaxing to read
When we read on paper, we are often sitting more comfortably, feeling relaxed. It is less comfortable to read technological gadgets than it is the pages of a book or newspaper. The smaller screen of a tablet or smartphone makes it harder to take in what is being read.
When we’re online, we’re in action mode. We have a task to complete and we want to do it quickly.
We are prone to distractions.
Travelling on crowded buses and trains is distracting, even in the quiet coach. Consider where your readers may be accessing your content. And what else they are doing. What is going on to distract them?
People lead busy lives. Often, our attention is focused elsewhere. After a stressful day, it’s even harder to concentrate.
Then there are other distractions: playlists, podcases and videos. Your screen alerts you to a text or phone call. We can complete only one task at a time.
When we start to read, we quickly work out what we can make sense of.
We never read every word. We skip some words (especially those we don’t understand). Perhaps we’ll glance at the words and leave the page.
Clarity is key
How can you make your content easier to read?
Add plenty of white space. Write shorter paragraphs.
Would a one-word sentence be acceptable on a website?
That’s why it’s worth taking a little more care over what we write. Especially if it’s a complex topic.
There’s an easy way to self-check your writing.
How to write easy-read sentences
With a little effort, you can cut sentence length and delete awkward words.
Take your most recent blog post, web page or email. Count the number of words in an average sentence.
- What is the average sentence length? 25? Halve it.
- Are you constantly achieving 15? Shorten some of them.
- Find the longest 5 sentences. Cut them down to 10 words each. Read them back and notice the difference.
- Read it aloud. Is it easy to pronounce?
- Ask a customer or colleague to read your words and tell you what they think it means.
- Use shorter words with fewer syllables.
Here’s an easy way to self-check your writing. Why not try it now?
- Open a document in Microsoft Word.
- Go to File, Options, Proofing and check that the ‘Show Readability Statistics’ box is ticked.
- Return to your document and check spelling and grammar (‘Review’ then ‘Spelling & Grammar’).
- A ‘Readability Statistics’ box appears on your screen.
- Under ‘Averages’ you’ll see ‘Words per Sentence’. If your average is below 15, brilliant: your content is easy to read.
- This useful tool is called Flesch-Kincaid. Use it and constantly improve everything you write.
- You’ll notice other scores:
- Flesch Reading Ease. Aim to score 60% or higher.
- Flesch-Kincaid grade level. Aim for 8 or below.
- Passive sentences – a score below 5% is best.
Set yourself an ‘easy reading’ quality mark
Set 8 as your standard.
If you achieve 8 or below, your reader will understand your content.
When we sit down to write we are thinking about what we want to say.
Instead, think about what people want to read. If they continue reading and take action, your writing will communicate the right message.
Why it’s important to make life easier for your readers
If your content is relevant, concise and interesting your readers will continue reading.
This leads to:
- Longer website visits
- Repeat website visits
- Higher email open rates and
- Better conversion rates.
If you secretly wonder why more people aren’t:
- Staying long on your website
- Subscribing to your newsletters, or
- Enquiring about your services
Perhaps your sentences are too long and difficult to read.
When a prospective customer visits your website or opens your email you have at most 5 seconds to grab his or her attention.
Who knew words could be so important?
For more advice on writing for results, call Tresil on 07711 361532.
Book a free consultation today. We’ll review your web page together in a free half hour skype or face to face conversation.
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