Reading is FUNdemental: Technical Writing for the Modern Era

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peggy olson notesWhat is Readability?

Readability is a measure of how easy something is to both read and understand. As a concept, readability is closely related to usability, a concept that many IT professionals are already quite familiar with. In both software and hardware design, usability is a measure of how intuitive and easy a product is to use. When it comes to text, readability is of chief concern. It should be of interest to every author, whether he writes novels, scholarly articles or web pages.

Why Should You Care About Readability?

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In the world of business, we most often write in order to communicate an idea to another person, whether they are a colleague, a boss, a shareholder, a service provider, or a customer. These ideas can be in many forms, from emails to sales pitches to advertising. But in all cases, the author must be concerned with clarity — otherwise, why should she bother writing at all? This is where readability becomes important, and why everyone who writes should care about it. It is also in your best interests to write clearly since concise writing can save you time, trouble, and even embarrassment.

Readability in the World of Technical Writing

peggy olson writingMaking your documents readable presents a special challenge when you are trying to convey technical information to an audience that may not have your expertise. This becomes especially important when you are writing documents that are designed to have large appeal, like web pages, advertising, blogs or marketing materials. It can often be quite difficult to translate technical jargon and ideas into easy-to-read materials for general usage, but the effort is worth it.

Measuring Readability

So how do we measure how easy something is to read? Fortunately, there are a lot of tools at our disposal. To start with, there are several readability scales that have been developed over the years: Flesch-Kincaid IndexCloze TestGunning Fog IndexSMOG Index.

Other things that Affect Readability:

  • The reading level of your audience
  • The audience’s education level
  • How fast or slow the audience reads
  • Font size and styling
  • The format of the text (colors, paragraph breaks, special characters)
  • Where the text is going to appear (webpage, tablet, e-reader)

People who create content for public consumption should do their best to make sure they produce writing that considers these guidelines. However, the most important thing to remember is that nobody is perfect — even the greatest authors in the world rely on editors, test-readers and even other writers to make sure their writing is up to par. Organizational writing is always a team effort.

Is readability a priority for your organization? What steps have you taken to improve the writings of your team?



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