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The Right Way to Write : Focus on Readability

Quality content is the lifeblood of the Web. Sometimes, I fear that this has been subverted in order to generate new propaganda tactics that influence the way people see the world and make important decisions. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that good content online can be defined as : relevant content, made for readers and pleasant to read…on a screen. Quality content is a very unique breed of content. It implies taking care of the tone, the sentence structure but also the form the content will have. Being mindful of the content you put out online can help you go a long way.

Good practices for better readability :

  • A clear text
  • Paragraphs that do not exceed 6 lines
  • Short sentences (no more than 12 words)
  • No jargon left unexplained
  • Clear and short titles and subtitles

The Flesch readability score

There is a matrix that allows you to determine the readability of a text. Rudolf Flesch developed a readability score based on major principles of psychology. While reading, a person develops a provisional judgment that helps to interpret the meaning of the words read. When the eye stops on a punctuation, the mind stops and interprets the final meaning of a sentence or paragraph. The longer the sentence, the more complicated it is to analyze its meaning. All this mental work is not necessarily promoted by web content readers.

The Flesch formula measures the mental effort required to understand a text on a scale from 0 to 100. Microsoft Word provides a Flesch readability score in its parameters. Otherwise, there are free online solutions like Hemingway App.

The value of the readability score for a writer

Testing the readability of a text helps to determine whether the text is clear, concise and easy for a reader to understand. Keep in mind that lowering the level of difficulty does not mean addressing a stupid audience. Reading on screen is more difficult than reading on paper. In addition, the many distractions we encounter in everyday life reduce the attention we pay to certain content.

French is a tricking language, so I am going to give you a tool to get started (I live in Québec after all, land of the Bonjour|Hi). A good French-language tool recommended to start testing your content: http://www.scolarius.com/.

Google’s take on readability levels

We do a lot of things to try to determine the relevance of pages for a user’s query – complicated pages can be great for the right audience or query, simpler pages for others. Speak in the language of your audience; present your awesomeness in a way they can understand.

Yes, so basically, take for granted that there is no magic sauce. Of course, it’s always a struggle to write for users while trying to put out content that bots will absolutely love as well. Speaking to a machine and to a human : two different things. The easiest way to handle this: readability. If you focus on making your content easily accessible to humans, chances are that you will also please bots. Bots need a bit more love but let’s not discuss the finer points of technical SEO today :).

Tool: Hemingway App

Hemingway App‘s mission is to make your writing clearer. This application, available online or downloadable in paid mode, aims to make the content written more digestible and understandable to as many readers as possible.

It is a very playful tool that chases down very complicated sentences, turns of phrase and words.

This reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote: “If you can’t explain something simply, it’s because you didn’t understand it well”.

hemingway app interface

To help us, brothers Adam and Ben long launched the Hemingway application that screens your content using an algorithm. The result? An in-depth semantic analysis. The tool checks the structure of sentences and paragraphs. It also counts the number of characters. This helps to identify overly complex passages and words that should be eliminated for better readability.

Two main criteria guarantee the effectiveness of this tool: passive voice hunting and adverbs. These elements are identified by the software and highlighted in red. Writing like Hemingway is within everyone’s reach: you have to make short, simple and direct sentences (while having software on hand to assist you).

Expresso App

Hemingway App is one of the most well known tools. However, it’s not the only one. I also recommend using Expresso App.

Expresso App Readability Interface

Their metrics are clearly explained and they provide a great guide on how to use the tool.