3 min read

Avoid your reader's snooze button

In Amazon, if you were writing docs, whatever the document, the likelihood was that someone would read it. But would they enjoy reading it?
Black and white image of a large dog yawning against a plain white background.
Photo by Fabian Gieske on Unsplash

One thing I think about when I write is, will anyone actually read this? And more importantly, will they enjoy reading this?

In Amazon, if you were writing docs, whether that be a roadmap, a monthly business review, or a promotion document, the likelihood was that someone would read it. But would they enjoy reading it? In the latest post, I wrote about writing for your reader and after publishing, I thought it deserved a follow up.

When I think about the books I have enjoyed reading, they are books that flow and make you want to turn the page again, and again, and again. They use words that are accessible and easy to understand, sentences that flow, and where they need to use data they do so in a way that feels like it is meant to be there. When I think about business documents they rarely have the same effect.

Why can’t they though?

I once found a document in a meeting room just before I was due to deliver writing training and it made my head hurt. It was wall to wall of text, it had 12 acronyms in the first paragraph alone and was littered with so many data points. I read the first paragraph 8 times and still didn’t really understand what I was reading.

Readers are people. People have likes and dislikes. People like to read things that are easy to read and understand. Readers want white space and a font size that doesn't require a magnifying glass! Often, when we write, we write in a way that, in our head, makes us appear smarter. We add in all sorts of unnecessary jargon, and we use acronyms - because everything in business requires an acronym, right?! We write in a way that we would never speak in a normal conversation.

Take this as an example; “The CRG in DXB performed above the expected cadence, making in excess of 340 calls in the first hour on Monday, equating to an average of 5.8 calls per minute or 4 calls per operative.” Huh?! This sentence is 35 words long and pretty tough to read and consume the information from. Now let’s rewrite.

“On Monday, the Customer Research Group in Dubai made 348 calls in the first hour against a target of 300. This resulted in 17 completed surveys and 11 new registrations for future research surveys.”

I hope you agree that the second paragraph is easier to read and more fact based. It compares the actual output to the target and gives data that the reader can do something with.

Making your document easy to read will ultimately make your reader happier. An easier to understand document will mean you thought about the message you want to convey. A clearer message means the decision making process should be more straight forward.

Easy for me to say, but what does this look like in reality?

  1. Think before you write - think about the story. Think about the key points you need to communicate. Think about where to start your document.
  2. Reduce and remove acronyms - we fall into the trap of creating acronyms for everything, but do you need them? Especially when most readers will likely have to remind themselves what they mean or likely read them in their fullest form in the document.
  3. Embrace the white space - good margins and regular paragraph breaks are good for the eye. It tells your reader you are thinking about them, and are guiding them through
  4. Use data where it adds to the story - don’t use data for data’s sake. Obviously add data to avoid the weasel word trap and get specific, but don’t just add data because you think it makes you sound smarter!
  5. Read it out loud! Reading your writing out loud means you will spot long sentences, unusual words that aren’t normal to your vocabulary, and you can also look at which sentences to remove or words to cut.

And finally…

6.   Use a readability checker. Word has a few tools you can use, including an Editor in the newer version which gives your writing a reading ease percentage. Aim for 60% or higher reading ease, and an average sentence length of 20 words or fewer.

If you have enjoyed reading this, why not buy me a coffee to fuel future blogs :)