3 Easy Writing Tips for Readability (to Implement Today)

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3 Easy Writing Tips for Readability

Is your novel written in a way that is easy to read and understand?

This is one of the most important things to think about when writing or revising your work. When you focus on making your writing more readable, you will be able to communicate more effectively and keep your readers engaged.

These three writing tips for readability will help you know what to look for to improve the way you communicate. They will also help your readers to understand and connect with you.

All of them can be applied just as easily to spoken language, but this article will focus on writing.

Readability Tip 1: Watch Out for Unnecessary Jargon

Merriam-Webster defines the word “jargon” as “the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group,” with a second definition of “obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words.”

For now I will be focusing on the first definition. So to simplify that down, jargon is fancy terminology that is difficult to get through.

Using unfamiliar words makes your writing less readable. You need to have a good understanding of who your readers are and what language they are familiar with so you can shape your writing around their needs.

Age is a major factor here. A YA novel should be written differently from a book for adults.

You also want to keep specialized terminology minimal in any kind of fiction, since this expands your potential readership.

Writers often know more than their readers

We often write about topics we are particularly knowledgeable about. This makes it easy to accidentally add in too much jargon and make what we write less accessible to the average person.

For example, if you are writing about some kind of advanced technology, you need to think about what level of understanding your readers have and make sure the language you are using will be easy for them to understand.

I am more knowledgeable about grammar than most people, which is why I sometimes write about grammar in my blog posts. Because of this, I need to be careful not to assume that everyone else is familiar with all the grammar terms that I know from years of studying languages and being an editor.

When is jargon useful?

Depending on what you’re writing about, it is sometimes necessary to include some technical terms.

Jargon words can be useful because they have specific definitions that help us communicate ideas more directly and in fewer words. But they stop being useful if readers are unfamiliar with them.

Explain unfamiliar words

Decrease the number of terms that are likely to be unfamiliar to the people you are writing for. Too many new words are hard to keep track of, and if the reading experience is difficult, readers may simply stop reading.

But eliminating every unfamiliar term can sometimes be challenging or even impossible.

When I explain a grammar concept, I will often share the grammar terminology related to that concept. This is because my goal is to give people the tools they need to think about grammar and fully understand it.

Learning technical terms can help people to understand larger ideas as long as they aren’t overloaded by new information.

If removing all jargon isn’t an option, find a way to explain it or show them what it means.

Readability Tip 2: Avoid Overcomplicated Language

My second writing tip for readability is to opt for simplicity as much as possible.

Merriam-Webster’s second definition of “jargon,” which is “obscure and often pretentious language marked by circumlocutions and long words,” falls into the category of overcomplicated language.

(“Circumlocution” is defined as “the use of an unnecessarily large number of words to express an idea” or “evasion in speech.”)

These issues can be just as problematic as technical terminology. They make the reader’s job more difficult and less enjoyable and simultaneously make them less likely to keep reading.

Simple language is more direct

The simplest way of stating something is usually the best option. Fancy words can make you feel smart, but they can make your points less clear and harder to keep track of.

Often you can make your message more direct by simplifying the language.

If it’s important to you that other people read and understand everything you are saying, make your writing direct and easy to follow.

Don’t give the reader too much work

Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern English Usage argues (on page 643) that “Simple ideas are often made needlessly difficult, and difficult ideas are often made much more difficult than they need to be.”

There is no good reason for making ideas appear more difficult than they really are. If you want to prevent people from understanding what you are saying, that defeats the purpose of saying something in the first place.

When you’re writing for readability, it’s important to stick with language that’s easy to follow. Keep it simple and direct, and people will have an easier time understanding you and stay more engaged.

Readability Tip 3: Be Concise

If you want your writing to be readable, it’s important to be concise. This means taking out the fluff and sticking to what adds value.

Any “fluff” language is extra work for the reader and keeps them from engaging with the substance of what you’re writing about.

Cut out extra words

If you find words that don’t add to what you’re saying in a substantial way, cut them out. You can almost always find words, phrases, or even sentences that are unnecessary or redundant and can be removed.

Replace long phrases with shorter ones. Longer sentences are more likely to become convoluted and difficult to follow. When there is a shorter option available, this option is often clearer and more precise. And when you can split a long sentence into two shorter ones, do it.

Don’t waste the reader’s time

If every word adds value, readers will feel they are using their time well. This is important if you want them to stay engaged.

Increasing the effort you’re asking from readers without increasing the value you’re offering will encourage them to pay less attention or stop reading entirely. This is especially important with fiction, because readers are reading for enjoyment.

To retain someone’s attention, you need to provide value. When you eliminate the fluff and communicate the same amount of meaning in fewer words, you can focus on the value of your message.

Quality over quantity

Don’t write more just for the sake of writing more. When you can say the same thing in fewer words, this is usually the right choice.

If your writing is difficult to get through, readers need to put in more time and effort. They will have a harder time staying engaged and are more likely to give up or move on to something else.

Any piece of writing that spends too much time rambling will discourage people from reading it.

Readability Bonus Tip: Be Consistent

Inconsistencies are distracting and can prevent readers from staying engaged.

Always check your grammar and punctuation. In the gray areas where multiple options are correct, make sure you are consistent. If you want more information on this as well as tips to implement a consistent style across all your writing, I wrote a whole article on why style consistency is important.

Consistency also applies to your writer’s voice, or how you talk to your readers. Your writer’s voice is the reader’s guide through the information you are presenting or through the story you are telling. Using a consistent voice helps you to gain their trust.

Why Does Readability Matter?

Readability is important. When you use unfamiliar words, overly complex ideas, or just too many extra words, these issues distract from its message.

So incorporate these readability tips into how you approach writing and editing. Pay attention to what adds value to the reader. The only way to be successful as a writer is to get people to keep reading.

People want to read something that is clear, concise, and easy to understand. If you ensure your writing has these qualities, you will have an easier time connecting with people and getting them to listen to you.

Recap: 3 Easy Writing Tips for Readability

  1. Eliminated unnecessary jargon: Focus on your reader
  2. Avoid overcomplicated language: Simple is better
  3. Be concise: Focus on what adds value
"Easy tips for clear & effective writing"
Clara Carlson-Kirigin

Clara Carlson-Kirigin

I’m Clara, the editor behind Prometheus Editorial. I work with fantasy and romance authors who want to invest in professional editing to help their novels succeed. I love teaching people how to harness the power of language, find their voice, and reach their target readership.

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