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How To Make Your Articles More Readable - Tips For Better Writing
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Sometimes it doesn't matter how interesting the subject or how much you might actually want to read it, a piece of text (book, magazine, blog) fails to hold your attention.
There could be various reasons, but a common one is the length of the sentences in it. Long sentences tire the reader and make text harder to understand. This doesn't just hold true for you as the reader, of course. If you regularly write - reports, articles, emails - then wouldn't it be good to know that what you produce is likely to engage those who see it?
Well, there's a useful tool that can help. Have you heard of the Gunning Fog Index? It's a great system that measures writing clarity, taking into account both the length of sentences and the words themselves.
This is how it works:
1. First of all, determine the average sentence length in a short (100 - 200 word) sample of writing. To do this, divide the number of words in the sample by the number of sentences. Where parts of the sentence are separated by a semicolon, count each part as a separate sentence.
2. Calculate the number of 'big' words (those with three or more syllables) per 100 words of your sample. Don't include combinations of short words (such as butterfly or motorway) or verbs that turn into three syllables because you've added -ed or -es.
3. Finally, add the average sentence length to the number of big words per hundred and multiply by 0.4.
The result is the Gunning Fog Index for your sample. To understand this a little more clearly, you need to know that the Gunning Fog Index corresponds to the number of years' schooling you need to read and understand the text.
So a score of eight or nine is equivalent to a high school education, while 17 is a university graduate. Popular magazines have a Gunning Fog Index score of between eight and 13, while technical journals should rate no higher than 17. Obviously the higher the Gunning Fog Index, the harder a piece of writing is to read.
It's worth remembering this when you're writing, especially if it's something related to your field of expertise that's going to be read by 'outsiders'. It's one reason why a lot of the businesses I work with ask me to review and rewrite their written communications materials.
They recognise that, as industry insiders, they can't see it from the same perspective as someone who's on the outside. If you're immersed in a particular industry, day in, day out, then technical jargon is bound to become a second language - but just because potential customers need what you're offering doesn't mean they'll understand that acronym you use every day.
A good example is NUT. Ask a teacher in the UK, they'll tell you it's the National Union of Teachers. To an IT geek, it's could be Node Under Test or Network UPS Tools. A Dutchman will tell you it's the Network University of Twente, while if you work in telecommunications you're answer was probably Number Unobtainable Tone. See what I mean?
Or how about if I asked you to read an article I'd written about a client's new development. It's really exciting. They're investigating the utilisation of natural polymers to manufacture a range of industry-specific formulations with adhesive properties. It's part of their global strategy to introduce more eco-efficient products and so enhance their environmental profile.
Are you yawning yet?
But if I tell you that this company is looking at using potatoes to make glue for use in furniture manufacture because it wants its products to be as 'green' as possible - doesn't that sound more interesting?
Cut the jargon and be readable. It's not about sounding 'clever' - it's about communication and getting your message across clearly.
Oh, and for the record - this article has a Gunning Fog Index of 11.25.
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