Quality written content for a digital space involves grabbing a reader’s attention immediately and ensuring there is no let-up in concise, engaging points that are both thought-provoking and accessible. Here we explore five ways to make your pages more readable.
It is a generally accepted truth that most content on the internet is not read, but scanned. A famous and still relevant 1997 survey by Jakob Nielsen found that 79 per cent of web users scan content rather than read it, while in 2013 Chartbeat found that most readers merely ‘scroll’ through about 50–60 per cent of a page’s content. In 2008, Jakob Nielsen also found that less than 20 per cent of the text content on a given web page is actually read.
Perhaps the most telling figure, though, also from Jakob Nielsen, is that concise, objective and easily understood copy results in an increase in useability of 124 per cent.
So how can you make your content more suitable to a readership likely to merely scan your pages?
- Economy of prose
It goes without saying that waffling, tangential, unfocused copy is particularly unsuitable for the web. This means no long sentences, no elaborate expositions, and, when copy is designed to be predominantly informational, no unnecessary or ornamental adjectives.
Imagination and creativity in web copy can be highly engaging (through analogies, references, and so on) but the key to a successful piece of content must be its economy. Whittle your message down to its barest of bones, free of any phrasing that a reader can all too easily ignore.
- Break up the page
Any reader faced with large, unbroken passages of text on their screen is highly unlikely to be engaged; therefore, the fragmentation of content into bite-size chunks is essential.
That means frequent line breaks, subheadings, bullet-point lists and, of course, a compelling headline and introduction.
The ultimate marriage of economy of ideas with fragmentation of text comes with the important rule: one idea per paragraph.
- Link to native content
Including links is an important part of creating content that is authoritative, insightful and relevant. Text that is hyperlinked should be differentiated by coloured text or underlined.
Linking to pages that are also created by you or your organisation can add new dimensions to your content. This will keep users on your site, and shows a reader you are an authority on the subject, with a handle on its history and context.
Alternatively, external links can be beneficial too, proving you have read around the subject and are up to date with its latest issues and trends.
- Get your formatting right
Presentation is key; therefore, formatting, fonts and typography can make a significant difference to a page’s readability.
The font should be large enough to be read easily, but not so large as to seem garish or in the specific ‘large print’ range. A font of anything between 12 and 16 is generally acceptable.
One effective formatting option might be to present central arguments or ideas in bold to emphasise them. This is particularly useful for the reader who scans: they can merely skim a page and identify the most important points in seconds.
Liberal use of white space between paragraphs, images and banners is also regarded as beneficial for readability.
- Consider cognitive fluency
‘Cognitive fluency’ refers to how easy it is to understand something. If a piece of content is to achieve good cognitive fluency, it should use terminology and language that is easily grasped and familiar to a broad audience.
Avoiding jargon or technical language is also a good idea, as is generally composing copy with a conversational style based on how people talk.