by Barbara McNichol
After reading all my edits on the first chapter of his book, a new client studied my copious changes and, looking for encouragement and wondering about readability, asked me: What do you think of the message?
Yes, it’s easy to lose sight of an author’s message when I’m knee-deep in the weeds of editing paragraph after paragraph. In this case, I connected strongly with the author’s content. However, with so much repetition and long-windedness, understanding his message made for a tedious task.
What’s my advice to him to improve readability? Turn the following five tips into strong habits:
- Write short words and limit the number of words—preferably fewer than 21 words in a sentence.
- Include one major point per paragraph and one major concept per chapter; don’t try to do too much in any one place.
- Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly so the strongest, most salient ones can stand out in the crowd.
- Break up large blocks of type with subheads—enough that readers can skim the pages to quickly find what they want.
- Don’t change the point of view within a paragraph (e.g., switching from a “we” to “you” orientation). If you have to shift the pronoun reference, start a new paragraph.
To improve readability: Make sure your piece says what you intend it to without wordiness getting in the way. The best test: Read your sentences out loud, listening for what is superfluous or trips you up. Together, the ear and tongue are excellent self-editors.
Recommended tool: Hemingway App. For a one-time fee of $9.99, you can install this app and use it to point out long-winded and convoluted sentences. It also notes the grade level–a big help in improving readability.
My question to you: What do you do to make sure your message is clear and concise? How do you boost the readability of your writing?
Share your tips in the Comments below.