IMPROVE THE READABILITY OF YOUR WRITING
What is readability? Essentially, it’s how easy it is for readers to read your writing. Improving the readability of your writing helps your reader to comprehend what your saying more accurately in less time. To make your writing more readable, follow these simple rules:
1. FOCUS ON YOUR READER
Who will be reading your writing?–young adults, men, women, seniors, etc. Find out as much as you can about your readers' education, reading habits, age, sex, occupational background, and so on. Even knowing the likes of "the general reader" is better than writing in a vacuum. Analyze the advertisements in the publication you intend to write for to help you discover your what your readers like.
2. FOCUS ON YOUR PURPOSE
Why are you writing? What do you expect your readers to do? Read your piece casually? Study it? Use it for reference? Read it for entertainment during leisure hours? Be sure of what you are trying to do and write accordingly.
3. DESIGN YOUR WRITING TO FIT
Once you know your audience and your purpose, you can design your piece of writing to fit. Ordinarily, this means that you start raising your readability by increasing the number of "personal words." For easy and interesting reading, a story design is usually best--either sustained narrative or anecdotes, illustrative examples, and practical applications, sandwiched between straight exposition. For instructions, the best design is the direct "you" approach, or cookbook style.
In other words, you can increase the number of "personal words" by using the first and second persons for yourself and your reader and by explaining your ideas through the experiences of people. Use actual people if you can. If you use fictitious characters, be sure the reader knows they’re fictitious.
4. USE DIRECT QUOTES AT KEY POINTS
Move your narrative along by using direct quotes at key points along the way.
After increasing the number of "personal words," increase the number of "personal sentences." In today's professional writing the proportion of dialogue to narrative is rising steadily.
Even without quoted dialogue the conversational approach to the reader will increase readability.
5. BREAK UP SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS
Next, shorten the length of the average sentence. To do this, look for the joints in complex sentences and change dependent clauses to independent clauses.
There’s a natural relation between the length of sentences and the length of paragraphs. After you’ve shortened your sentences, break up your paragraphs to fit the changed rhythm.
Also, avoid using semi-colons. Put a period where a semi-colon should be. But make sure the new sentence following it relates directly to the previous one.
6. FIND SIMPLER WORDS
Finally, shorten the average length of your words. Some of the long, complex words may be technical terms that shouldn't be changed. As for the rest, remember that complexity rather than length makes for reading difficulty. Many complex words are abstract nouns. Change these nouns into verbs, particularly simple verbs with adverbs. For example, instead of condescension use look down on. It’s usually better to recast sentences than simply replace one word by another.
7. HELP YOUR READER READ
You’ll raise the level of readability indirectly if you try to help your readers in the job of reading. Point out to them what’s significant. Using bold type, tell them to remember what they should remember, use headings to prepare them for what they’re going to read, and summarize for them what they’ve read.
8. LEARN TO CUT
The most common fault of beginning writers–and some advanced ones, too-- is wordiness. The most important editorial job is cutting. Cutting nonessentials will make essentials stand out better and save the reader time.
If your piece of writing is too long, some readers may skip it altogether. Often you have to design a piece of writing to attract readers by sheer brevity.
9. REARRANGE FOR EMPHASIS
Readers remember best what they read last. Rearrange your writing with that in mind. Do this with words, sentences, and larger units. Prepare your reader's mind for your ideas, and then build them up for greatest impact.
10. PUNCTUATE FOR READABILITY
Current punctuation practice gives you much leeway. Use punctuation to speed up reading and to clarify the meaning of words and sentences. Use shorter sentences, avoiding semicolons and colons, which tend to lengthen sentences. Italics and parentheses will help convey conversational emphasis or casualness.
As a rule, design your writing for being read aloud.
11. DON'T WRITE DOWN TO YOUR READER
While you’re working on words, sentences, paragraphs, and punctuation, don't lose sight of the first and most important point: Remember your readers. Don't overrate their reading habits and skills, but don't underrate them as human beings. Otherwise, you'll defeat your purpose.
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