You can read this sentence.
The sentence is short, it uses simple words, and the subject is toward the beginning. These three components make any sentence extremely easy to read.
I know this is a simple example, and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence.
But here’s the deal:
Readability is essential to writing clear, concise, and compelling content.
Your content can wax poetic.
You can write complex, long sentences.
You can even write long-form pieces to tell a captivating story.
But if your content is confusing, complex, or long-winded, you’re missing the point.
Writing online is not like writing in your journal.
You’re writing for a public audience—not yourself.
As a copywriter, your goal isn’t to woo readers with your mastery of the English language.
Your goal is drive results with your words.
Said another way, your words must compel your target audience to take a specific action.
To capture the attention of your audience, you must write readable content. Content your target audience can easily understand.
What this means for you and your business can be completely different from someone else.
What readability means for the healthcare industry versus content marketing can vary widely because the target audiences are different.
For the sake of this post, let’s assume you’re writing for the average adult.
The average adult in the United States reads at the 9th-grade level. In this example, your writing must be readable by someone in the 9th-grade—not a graduate student.
To save your copy from the curse of knowledge, there are four practical ways you can make your content readable. Here are they are.
#1. Use simple words
Big words have two big problems:
- Most people can’t read big words.
- Most people don’t want to read big words.
If you’re writing for the general public, then your words shouldn’t exceed the 9th-grade level. If they do, then you run the risk of losing your readers attention.
Besides, most people don’t want to read what you write online.
People read online much like animals’ forage for food.
They’re hungry and in search for something to eat.
The key to satisfying your readers is to use simple words.
What makes a word “simple” depends upon the context.
But here are three guiding principles:
- Use short words
- Use familiar words
- Use words with 1-2 syllables
By using simple words, your copy will be easy-to-understand.
#2. Begin sentences with subjects
Grab your readers attention with right-branching sentences.
These magical sentences are easy to read, minimize passivity, and they fuel your writing with action.
To write a right-branching sentence, you need to describe your main subject first and then modify it afterward with additional information.
Jordan Loftis, a ghostwriter and the former marketing automation lead at CoSchedule, suggests placing the subject and verb as close together as possible to create more movement in your writing.
To see what I’m talking about, here are several right-branching sentence examples from Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools:
“A writer composes a sentence with subject and verb at the beginning, followed by other subordinate elements, creating what scholars call a right-branching sentence.”
“Rebels seized control of Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, on Sunday, meeting little resistance as hundreds of residents cheered, burned the police station, plundered food from port warehouses and looted the airport, which was quickly closed” (Lydia Polgreen).
“He didn’t need a clock. He had been working in a tidal partner so long that he could fee a tide change in his sleep” (John Steinbeck).
#3. Write to be scanned
Focus on your readers by making your copy easy to scan.
People frequently read online in an F-shaped pattern. They scan the page horizontally from left-to-right, and then they scan the left side of the page in a downward vertical movement.
Here’s a visual illustration to show you what I mean:
Help your readers by accommodating to their reading habits. Here are some easy ways how:
- Bulleted lists
- Numbered lists
- Block quotes
- Pull quotes
- Bold or italicize content
The key to writing scannable content is to use short sentences.
In this post, my average sentence length is 9.7 words.
Some people recommend 20-25 words per sentence. I don’t have a hard rule I follow. Honestly, I just eye the format to see if my sentences are short. If I see a long sentence, then I make it shorter.
As you write, be sure to format your content with your readers in mind.
Writing readable content
Readability is about focusing on your readers.
Your goal as a copywriter is to connect with your audience and move them to action. The best way you can accomplish both of these goals is to write readable content.
These tips will help you to get started.
Apply these lessons.
See what resonates with your readers.
Observe your results.
If you’re like me, you’ll need to continually revisit these lessons and improve upon.