Aug 16 2007
Sometimes I struggle with writing “simply”. Many of my posts are long (over 1,000 words) which I think is probably deemed a “no-no” in blogging terms.
I believe that people will
persevere read a longer post if you pay close attention to the readability. Consider Craig Harper, for example. He’s got a terrific style, so easy to read. Despite the length of his posts, he has lots of short sentences, short words and not a hint of academic stuffiness. That’s effective communication.
How is readability determined?
What got me thinking about all this was a post by Colin about a bad writing competition that used to exist. Colin quoted the 1998 winner and it’s a shocker (go and have a look, I’ll wait). See what I mean?
Andrew expands on this saying that (
bad spelling and grammar don’t impede effective communication nearly as much as multisyllabic words and multi-clause sentences) long words and sentences make reading harder than bad spelling and grammar.
There are a few readability indexes. The “Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests” are packaged with Microsoft Word and I’ve outlined a couple more below. I used these a lot years ago, but confess I haven’t given it as much thought as I should lately.
The Reading Ease test calculates a score which indicates how easy a passage is to read. Unlike the Gunning Fog index below, the higher the score the better. I’d suggest aiming for a reading ease score of at least 50 (which roughly translates to a year 12 level), but preferably higher.
The Grade Level formula changes the Reading Ease score into a grade level, similar to the Gunning Fog Index (GFI).
This index determines the number of years of formal education (based on US standards) that a person would need, in order to properly understand a piece of writing. It is suggested that an index of less that 12 is considered ideal for a wide audience. Without going into too much detail, the formula considers the length of sentences and the
saturation number of words with three or more syllables.
There are a couple of online tools that will calculate the Gunning Fog Index.
Test Document Readability and Improve it (also offers suggestions as to which sentences should be revised and provides other index scores)
Out of interest, I tested the quote from Colin’s post and the index was around 48. Forty eight years of formal education – I think not! Contrast that with a couple of Craig’s recent posts, which come in around 7. Which would you rather read at the end of a long day? Yep I thought so.
SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook)
Similar to the Gunning Fog Index, in that it calculates the number of years education required to understand a passage. Online SMOG Readability Calculator.
What are some practical suggestions for improving readability?
Some tips for making your blog easier to read
- Keep sentences short. Break them up if they are too long.
Complex words might suffice to succinctly convey your message, but could effectively marginalise a foreign audience
- Keep in mind that your visitors might not have English as a first language. You might need to use longer sentences with shorter words, when a few complex words would do.
- Use short paragraphs
- Break up text with headings, and images (note to self: use more images)
- Using bullet points can be effective
- Don’t use a font that is too small
- Be careful when using a coloured background. Make sure there is enough contrast between text and background colour.
- When you finish writing, do something else. Then come back and read it again with fresh eyes.
You’ll note that I included some of my editing in this post to
illustrate prove my point. It changed the Gunning Fog Index for this post from 10.29 to 9.38. Sorry it looks so messy.
Do you have any tips for making blog posts easier to read?
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