What is Readability? Why Does it Matter?
By Erin | Jul 1, 2021 (5 min read)
Admit it. You probably won’t read this whole article.
You will read these first few sentences, and then your eye will start to scan down the page.
You’ll look for some key points, and try to get the most critical lessons in less than a minute. Then you will probably click off this page.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Studies show that we all read differently on a computer than on a printed page.
Why You Already Started Scanning This Article
Even though many of us were taught to read using physical books, when we read an article online, we treat it very differently.
A paper book, magazine, or newspaper is often read in a linear way (i.e., from start to finish). When it comes to reading an article online, our behavior changes.
We skim, we skip, we go back up to the top after reading the bottom first. We look at the pictures and click on the links. Nobody actually taught us to do this, it’s just a behavior we all engage in.
Let’s try an experiment. See how many of these online reading behaviors you have:
- Scanning Headings
- Reading the bolded text first
- Scanning through bullet points
- Reading only the first sentence of paragraphs
- Scanning links (because they are underlined)
- Reading only the introduction or the conclusion
If you read all those you probably will admit to doing some or all of them.
Why Do We Read Differently Online?
Why is there such a difference in the way we read online versus offline? A lot has to do with the sheer volume of content available.
Think about it. How many books or magazines can you read at one time? Just one. You have to pick up the book or magazine to read it.
In contrast, whenever you open a website on your computer, you can have ten (or one hundred) tabs open at the same time.
This increase in content availability means you place less value on what you are reading online.
Even though what you are reading might be of high quality, it’s just the sheer volume of content that makes you pay less attention.
Also, you have to choose to pick up a book or magazine to read, and it’s the only option you have right at that moment. The physical action of holding an item also creates more interest.
Readability Is Pretty Simple
If you plan to do any writing for a website, you need to understand what readability is, and how it affects the way content is consumed.
Readability is a measure of how easy a piece of text is to read. It includes elements of complexity, familiarity, legibility, and even the fonts you choose.
The main criteria that make up the readability formula are:
- Sentence length: the average number of words in each sentence.
- Word length: the average number of syllables in each word.
Readability comes down to simplicity. Articles that contain long sentences with long words are harder to read. They make people want to skim the article.
What is a Readability Score?
When it comes to reading ease, you can actually measure it with a readability tool. A readability score is a computer-calculated readability score which can tell you what level of education someone will need to be able to read a piece of text easily.
Content readability is tested based on the flesch kincaid readability score which says that any written text intended for the general public should aim for a 8th-grade level, or a schooling age of about 13 to 14.
You might think that targeting a higher readability level will make you sound more sophisticated or professional, but you will also have a lot of people skimming your content.
Readability Does Not Equal Writing Quality
You might assume that having a lower readability score means the content isn’t as valuable or interesting. But that’s not the case.
Readability score doesn’t measure a person’s writing skills, vocabulary, or the clarity of ideas. In fact these aspects have nothing to do with readability metrics.
When it comes to web content and reading online, the simpler an article is to read, the more likely people will keep reading it.
Four Readability Hacks for Your Writing
Ok, honestly, these aren’t hacks as much as common sense. Poor readability comes down to over complicating your writing. So here are four tips that can help text readability on your website and blog articles.
Make it Shorter
You guessed it. The best way to improve your readability is to cut down lengthy sentences. Say more with less. Try to replace complex words with simpler ones. Drop your word count as much as you can, and you will gain more interest.
It might seem like you a ‘dumbing down’ your writing, when in fact, you are making it more interesting.
Use Subheadings, Bolding, and Bullets
To break up your content, you can begin each section with a subheading. The subheading should tell the reader the contents of the next section.
To draw attention is to specific points, use bold text. These can pull the reader’s eye down the page, so use them sparingly on important points.
Another excellent tactic is to use bullet points. If there is a lot of information to get through, putting it in bullet form can help to make it more readable.
Guide The Reader
A short sentence helps the reader get started.
A second short sentence helps them get into a rhythm.
When you use a simple sentence structure and smaller sentence length to begin your article, it helps the reader to become interested.
As shown above, this can be a good formula to follow:
– A short, simple first sentence.
– A second short sentence that adds to the interest.
– A third sentence that backs up the first two with facts or the start of a story.
Use Visuals Where You Can
If possible, it’s great to add some visual aspects to your online writing. Images help to break up the words and also can add more impact to the writing.
You have probably noticed this has become a trend in a lot of online articles during the past few years.
Every few paragraphs, there is a photo, graph, or something that adds more dimension to the piece.
Don’t overdo it with the visuals, but if something works to add impact and variety to what you are writing then add it in.
If You Didn’t Read This Article, Remember This
Remember when writing that the main goal is to pique the interest of the reader, and then keep it until the end. Don’t get too hung up on finding the perfect readability formula, but just focus on writing in an understandable, valuable way.
While not many people may read your article all the way through, you can still get your message across if you have high readability. It’s a skill that adds value to your writing. Use it to your advantage.