Making your content readable

Working for large organisations can require you to write in a formal manner. This does not apply to writing for the web. Publishing content that is too formal, beyond a user's reading ability or too dense to read is pointless. It is important to think of the user when writing your content.

Benefits of readable contentCommunication

  • Users prefer it
  • Cuts the length of content
  • Improves understanding

Tips for making content readable

Tone

Tone should be adjusted to suit the context and your audience. The standards suggest that we balance writing for the web so that it is neither too formal or informal. To help with this, it is a good idea to read your content aloud to see if it sounds engaging or too formal. 

Words

  • Use words that your audience will understand
  • Avoid using jargon that users may not be familiar with
  • Acronyms should only be used if they have been referred to in previous text e.g. 'Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)' in the first paragraph, then 'MOU' for every reference thereafter
  • Common abbreviations such as 'NSW' can be used for Australian audiences
  • Avoid idioms that people from different cultural backgrounds would not understand e.g. 'on the same page'

Sentences

  • Sentences should be short, simple and easy to read - the average sentence length should be 15-20 words and sentences longer than 35 words should be avoided
  • Vary the length of sentences- a series of short sentences can sound monotonous and a page full of long sentences can be hard to read
  • Break up sentences with commas where possible

Verbs

Verbs have a voice that is either active or passive. The passive voice makes our writing sound more formal and can lead to longer sentences. It can be used when you do not know who the person, group or thing is or if you want to emphasise the verb or object of the action. The active voice is best practice as it is more direct and identifies who is responsible for an action. 

An example of changing a passive voice to an active voice is shown below:

Passive:  The project will be considered by the Board
Active
:  The Board will consider the project

Verbs are often turned into nouns (nominalised). This practice should be avoided because it makes:

  • sentences longer
  • content sound more formal
  • information more abstract e.g. 'we accept extensions' would become 'the University has approved extensions when a student has submitted an application and provided documentary evidence'.

Ways of finding nominalised verbs are to:

  • check for nouns ending in -ion, -ment, -al, -age, -ing, -dom, -ance or -ant
  • look for weak sounding verbs such as had, made, was, gave, provided, conducted, performed or undertook.

Personal pronouns

Use personal pronouns to replace formal references to your organisation or the users e.g. 'our' instead of 'university' and 'your' instead of 'students'. Personal pronouns make content:

  • feel more engaging
  • sound less formal
  • more concise.