65 Readability Factors

Readability (the process of making documents easier to read, understand and respond to) can be divided into two main categories: content and design. Technical writers have to make conscious efforts to make both the information and the document stand out.

Here are a few ways to make papers more readable:

Content

 Language:

Use simple language whenever possible.

Define complex language.

Choose strong active verbs (avoid passive voice most often).

Sentences and paragraphs:

  • Use short sentences on average.
  • Use short paragraphs. Look for ways to break one longer paragraph into a series of shorter paragraphs.
  • Single space most documents. Skip lines between paragraphs when convenient.
  • Use parallelism in lists. Help your reader get from beginning to end.

Message

  • Be specific. Give your reader images he/she can see.
  • Provide enough information for the reader to understand and respond to. Length only matters to the point of having fulfilled the audience’s needs.
  • Don’t provide unnecessary information. Learn to omit material as easily as you add material.
  • Use an opening that lets your reader know why you are writing and why they will benefit from reading the information.
  • Define unfamiliar language.
  • Understand your reader’s needs.

 Design

Emphatic tools

  • Use things like boldface, italics and underline to help your reader understand important issues.
  • Use headings and sub-headings to help separate sections and to help your reader remember what it is you are focusing on.
  • Use columns and bulleted lists to help make items stand out.
  • Use white space to help influence the reader to read: psychologically, it looks a lot better when it’s not filled with words.

 Graphics

  • Use tables, charts, graphs to pull numbers out of text.
  • Place graphics close to the information they pertain to.
  • Use objective or symbolic graphics to help your reader see images you are having difficulty describing.

 

Formatting

  • Use consistent design from beginning to end of the document.
  • Choose reader-friendly fonts and prints. Help the reader read the information.
  • Don’t let your design overwhelm your content- pick and choose design tools.

 

This is only a basic review of readability factors. Everything we discuss and evaluate in technical writing relates to the two prongs of technical writing: content and design. The bottom line is, make your documents professional quality.

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Technical Writing by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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