Quick wins to improve readability


Have you ever read a boring report? Or rather, read the same text again and again, but still not taken it in? How can a boring report ever be a page turner? And how can your healthcare communications always be an utter joy to read? Here are my top tips for readability:

  1. Keep sentences short. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve readability. People always underestimate the power of a short sentence. Don’t be one of those people.
  2. Vary the length of your sentences. We aim for an average sentence length no more than 14 words. An average of 14 words means some sentences should be long – anywhere from 25 to 40 words. Others should be short. Two or three words.
  3. Remember that rhythm is an important part of readability. A nice mix of short and long sentences is one of the ways to improve rhythm.
  4. Use tools like the Gunning Fog Index to check readability. For patients we aim for an ideal score of eight for universal readability but accept anything below 10.
  5. Use Vocab Grabber to check that you are saying what you intend to say. (Vocab Grabber is part of Visual Thesaurus – an essential subscription for any wordsmith). When I ‘Vocab Grabbed’ this blog I was happy with what I discovered.
  6. Never use a complicated word if there’s a simpler alternative.

If you feel that a piece ‘isn’t working’…

Don’t be put off. You can often put things right by deploying these tips and tools. It can take ages in the beginning; it isn’t easy. At Wordbird, we work very hard on readability, so when I see a patient webpage with a Fog Index of 20 (which has happened) I just can’t wait to get to work.

By Sarah Sowerby, Apostrophe Police and Short Sentence Fiend