Is your writing harder to read than Harry Potter?

Poor readability causes more than just confusion.

Across a wide range of industries, communications faces a readability crisis. A VisibleThread study found that many bank websites and key information documents are unreadable for the typical consumer. Even the best-performing banks barely achieved the recommended readability score of 50 – equivalent to the reading level of an average 13-year-old.

In fact, the Harry Potter book series, and even Moby Dick from 1851, scored more highly on readability. And that was only for the best-communicating banks – lower-performing ones scored similarly to an academic paper on chess.

Transparency is trust

For banks and other organisations in technical industries, keeping communications straightforward is clearly a challenge – but it’s one worth getting right. Unreadable content doesn’t just confuse your customers, it lowers their trust and loyalty: if they can’t understand your content, they’ll think your organisation lacks transparency. What’s more, hard-to-read content hurts SEO performance. So, how can these businesses write more clearly?

It doesn’t need to be difficult. The study assessed readability based on features such as average sentence length, word choice, voice, and average number of syllables per word. Slightly adjusting these can make a big difference. Here are our quick tips for creating consumer-friendly content:

  • Shorten sentences. To avoid losing your readers, split complex sentences into separate ideas. 25 words is a good guideline maximum length. And, if you must use a longer sentence, signpost readers with punctuation.
  • Eliminate unnecessary words. Wordy phrases slow readers down – if you can say the same thing in fewer words, do so. Adverbs, in particular, are often unnecessary, as they usually communicate unqualified opinions.
  • Choose simple words. Do you need to say ‘disclose’, or will ‘tell’ work? Clear vocabulary is especially important for verbs, which often carry much of a phrase’s meaning.
  • Explain technical terms. Businesses may sometimes need to refer to technical concepts, which are often abbreviated. But well-recognised terms and abbreviations within the sector may not be familiar to consumers. So, consider providing a short explanation for technical terms, and write out abbreviations in full the first time they are used.
  • Avoid passive voice. Almost 90% of banks in the VisibleThread study used the passive voice excessively. This generates weaker verbs, creates ambiguity (who is completing the action?), and is typically wordier. Switching to active verbs will increase transparency and strengthen your message.

Above all, ask yourself whether a reasonably intelligent person with no background in your industry could understand your writing. If so, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track!

At Narrative Labs, we value readability and transparency highly. Why not get in touch to discuss how we can support you?

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By |June 19th, 2020|Tips & insights|Comments Off on Is your writing harder to read than Harry Potter?

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