Beverley Scherberger

The only Writer / Editor you'll ever need.

#8 Easy to Read

Easy to Read

Today I’m going to answer a writing question from Judy. This is what she has to say:

“Sometimes when I write something, it sounds “stuffy” or pretentious. How do you make your writing so easy to read and understand?”

Make your articles easy to read.

Easy to Read

First of all, Judy, thank you for your comment and your question!

Since Judy doesn’t specify what type of writing she does, I’m going to keep my answer general so that it will apply to various situations.

Most importantly, unless you’re writing a technical manual or an article for a specific book or magazine that targets only those working within that industry, you’ll want to keep the language simple. Don’t use technical terms, industry jargon, or long, fancy words that regular people wouldn’t understand. In other words, make it easy to read.

Compare it to a doctor using medical terms to explain what’s wrong with you. Not very many of us would understand what he was saying. He has to simplify his language to make it easy for the average person to understand. The same holds true when writing an article.

Some people think using long words and technical terms make them look intelligent and well educated. But if the point of writing your article is to inform and, in fact, educate others, it makes more sense to make it easy to understand. You can find another way to show off your higher level of education or literacy. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Keep It Simple, Sweetheart” (KISS). Normally, people will finish reading an article that is interesting and easy to read; they’ll simply turn the page if it’s hard to grasp. Let’s face it, nobody likes to be made to feel stupid…

If you absolutely have to write something that is over the average person’s head, submit it to a technical or industry-specific magazine. Their readers are the only people who will understand the terminology. For any other type of article, think in terms of having a conversation with a friend when deciding how to phrase something. Would you say, “I’m transporting my canine to the veterinarian this evening” or “I’m taking my dog to the vet tonight”?

Obviously, you’d use the second option for easy conversation. Keep your language simple using common, everyday words, and use shorter sentences. Although to keep your article from sounding choppy, intersperse the shorter sentences with the occasional longer one. Read it out loud to be sure it flows.

The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test is a great tool to help you find how easy (or difficult) your article is to read. Once you have the test enabled on your computer, you can check any document you write (the same way you use spell-check) and can make changes based on its readability level. If you have too many long words, find shorter ones that have the same meanings. If you’ve used too many long sentences, break them up into shorter ones to improve the flow. The end result will be an article that’s easy to read and understand.

Being able to take a rather complicated subject and write about it so the average person can understand it is a very marketable talent. Years ago, an attorney hired me to write an article on living wills. At the time, my knowledge of the subject was non-existent. I spent about an hour with the attorney discussing living wills and taking page after page of notes.

While the conversation was still very fresh in my mind, I wrote a rough draft. I emailed it to her to be sure I had the information correct and was saying what she wanted me to say. She approved the draft and commented that I had taken a complicated topic and made it easy to understand.

Obviously, the attorney could have written the article herself. However, her fear was that she would talk over the average person’s head and no one would understand what she really wanted to convey.

The two main things that I want you to take away from this post are:

  • Unless writing for a technical magazine, utilize KISS. Write conversationally, as though talking to a friend.
  • Enable the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test on your computer and check every document you write to be sure it’s easy to read.

These two guidelines should keep your writing from sounding stuffy and pretentious. Write on…!

And remember…

“Read to escape reality . . . Write to embrace it.”   ―     Stephanie Connolly

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