The writing and the reader determine reading ease
Readability: “the degree to which a given class of people find certain reading matter compelling and comprehensible.”
— G. Harry McLaughlin, creator of the SMOG readability formula
Two elements contribute to reading ease, according to readability expert William H. DuBay, in Smart Language: the reader and the writing.
Reader traits that affect readability include:
- Reading skills. Caution: Your reader’s skills might not be as good as you think.
- Prior knowledge. The more they know, the more interested they are. And the higher their reading skill, the more general knowledge they’ll have.
- Interest. How much do they care about, say, the company’s new mission statement?
- Motivation. What carrots and sticks are in play for learning this information?
Easier writing, DuBay writes, can compensate for these issues.
In What Makes a Book Readable, the most thorough look at readability ever, researchers William S. Gray and Bernice Leary identified 228 elements of readability and organized them into four components:
- Content — arguments, structure, coherence
- Style — semantic (words) and syntactic (sentences)
- Design — typography, layout, illustrations
- Organization — chapters, navigation, headings
There’s not a lot you can do about your reader’s skills, knowledge, interest and motivation. So how can you make your writing more readable?