Writing readable content

Is your content easy to read? Do your users have to re-read to understand what you’re saying? Do you write too formally? Try these exercises and see if you can make some improvements.

Exercise 1

Have a look through the words on the everyday words cheat sheet (you can download a copy to keep or print). Do see any that you use on your website?

  • Make a shortlist of 5 words and their alternatives and pin it somewhere visible in your work space. Leave it there for a month, and every time you’re about to use one, switch to the alternative.
  • After a month, make another shortlist and do the same thing.

Exercise 2

Have a look through the phrases on the concise writing cheat sheet (you can download a copy to keep or print). Do see any that you use on your website?

  • Make a shortlist of 5 phrases and their alternatives and pin it somewhere visible in your work space. Leave it there for a month, and every time you’re about to use one, switch to the alternative.
  • After a month, make another shortlist and do the same thing.

Exercise 3

Select a page you recently published.

Copy and paste the text into a Word document (or into the online Readability Test Tool).

  • Run Word’s readability checker to see what your average sentence length is. (It runs after the spell checker, but you have to enable it first. Search on ‘readability statistics’ in the help for your version of Word to see how to turn it on.)
  • If your average sentence length is over 20 words, rewrite your content to reduce it.

Repeat this with 2 other pages you’ve recently published.

Exercise 4

Next time you write some content, watch out for nominalising your verbs (turning them into nouns).

  • Check nouns ending in –ion, -ment, -al, -age, -ing, -dom, -ance, -ant.
  • Change them to verbs wherever you can.

Exercise 5

Choose a page you published recently.

Print out the page. With a highlighter pen mark every time you mention your organisation or reader.

Did you use personal pronouns:

  • ‘We’ or ‘our’ instead of the name of your organisation or area?
  • ‘You’ or ‘your’ instead of some other way of referring to your reader?

Edit to use personal pronouns wherever you can.

Exercise 6

Choose a page you published recently.

Print out the page. With a highlighter pen mark every to-be verb form (is, are, be, being, been, was, were).

  • Is the to-be verb used with a verb ending in -en or -ed? This is passive voice.
  • Do you really need to use passive voice? If not, rewrite in active voice.

Exercise 7

Choose a page you published recently.

Print out the page. With a highlighter pen mark every long, difficult or unusual word.

Do you need to use this word? Can you substitute it with one from the everyday words cheat sheet?

Exercise  8

Choose a page you published recently.

Print out the page. With a highlighter pen mark every abbreviation or acronym you’ve used.

Consider:

  • Is the shortened form one that your target audience is already familiar with (for example, CD, DVD, TV, St, Rd, Ms, Dr) or have you had to define it?
  • Instead of using an unfamiliar abbreviation or acronym, could you replace it with one or two words from the long form?
  • Do you really need to use the shortened form? If you use it only once, can you use the long form instead?