Is Your Writing Easy To Read? Here Are 6 Tips That Will Help

 

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Easy Reading Is Damn Hard Writing - Nathaniel (1)

Is your writing easy to read?

Does it flow, like the sound of music? Is your reader effortlessly moving through pages? Or, do they stumble?

We can all relate to this. Our first drafts are usually choppy. All sentences appear to be 200 words long! It doesn’t have to be. Whether you’re writing a book, or a blog post, here are some tips you can use in the rewriting phase to greatly improve the readability of your story.

1. Vary Up The Sentence Length

Have you noticed every sentence you write is so extremely long that by the time you finish reading it, you have to pause to take a deep breath? It shouldn’t be. Sentences should vary in length. This is outlined in ‘100 Ways To Improve Your Writing’ by Gary Provost. Here’s what he had to say about this technique:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.

2. Kill The Bloat

After I’ve finished writing my first draft without any consideration to readability, I’ll begin going through each paragraph and take out the excess. When I’ve written a screenplay, I’ll go from 200 pages to 90. It’s amazing how much excess ‘bloat’ we have in our writing. It’s not easy. We all believe that every word we wrote is precious. It isn’t. Kill the words! A new article in Inc. provided a great example of this concept from Richard Lanham’s Paramedic Method, which is featured in his book ‘Revising Prose‘:

  1. Highlight the prepositions.

  2. Highlight the “is” verb forms.

  3. Find the action. (Who is kicking whom?)

  4. Change the action into a simple active verb.

  5. Start fast–no slow windups.

  6. Read the passage out loud with emphasis and feeling.

In every paragraph Lanham revises, wordiness sneaks in out of laziness, or because the author wanted to turn a plain statement into a pompous profundity.

Here is an example from Revising Prose:

dhw-lanham

3. Write Out Your Abbreviations

How many times have you read something that was abbreviated right away? I’ve been found guilty of this quite a bit since I write health articles. Imagine reading VHR first without knowing that it means Variable Heart Rate! When you go through your work, make sure you’ve introduced any abbreviations in long form. This seems like a simple tip, but you’d be surprised. This one of three tips that really resonated with me by Nicole Nelson over at the Redmoxy blog.

4. Get Rid Of The Passive Voice

Switching between passive and active voice is something I’ve always had difficulties with. I think I fell asleep during English class when they went over this! However, I got a great summary of this over at the barefoot writer blog:

First, know what it is. Passive voice is any form of the verb “to be” (is, am, are, was, were, be, been) plus a past participle of a verb. Like “is taken” or “was seen” or “are revealed.”

Passive voice tends to make your writing sound more “formal” or “distant.” But you want your writing to sound friendly. So here’s what you do:

a) Use “you.”

Instead of: “Relief can be had instantly with this single pill.”

Try: “You can relieve your symptoms instantly with this single pill.”

b) Put a “doer” before the verb in your sentence. That’ll force you to tell your reader who’s responsible for the action.

Instead of: “It is reported that 45% of older American workers have physically demanding jobs.”
Try: “The New York Times reports that …” or “Re¬search shows that …” or “I just read in the paper that 45% of older American workers have physically demanding jobs.”

5. Avoid Weak Verbs

To expand on some of these concepts, I found some great examples that I use as ‘cheat sheets’. I found two on the boost blog traffic website that I reference every time I revise my work. One of them is avoiding weak verbs. Here’s how they explain this:

Not only does to be conspire with it, there, and here to create nasty grammar expletives, but it’s also responsible for its own class of sentence impairing constructions.

Certain uses of to be in its various forms weaken the words that follow. The solution is to replace these lightweights with more powerful alternatives.

Let’s see some before-and-after examples:

She is blogging – She blogs
People are in love with him – People love him
He is aware that people love him – He knows people love him
Other verbs besides to be verbs can lack strength as well. Use visceral verbs or verbs that express some action. Let’s edit:

Give outOffer
Find outDiscover
Make it clearerClarify
I can’t make it to the party – I can’t attend the party
He went to Mexico – He traveled to Mexico
Think of a blogging strategy – Devise a blogging strategy

6. Avoid Weak Adjectives

Weak adjectives sap the strength from your writing just as nefariously as weak verbs. Use the best adjectives possible when describing nouns and pronouns. And be mindful that certain words, like really and very, usually precede weak adjectives. Take a look:

Really bad – Terrible
Really good – Great
Very big – Huge
Very beautiful – Gorgeous
Even if you don’t have a telltale really or very preceding an adjective, you can often give your writing more impact by using stronger alternatives:

Dirty – Filthy
Tired – Exhausted
Scared – Terrified
Happy – Thrilled
Even worse than using weak adjectives is using weak adjectives to tell your readers what something isn’t as opposed to telling them what something is:

It’s not that good – It’s terrible
He’s not a bore – He’s hilarious
He’s not very smart – He’s ignorant

These tips should be printed out and put into your own ‘swipe files’. Use them as reference every time you finish your rough draft. Just don’t touch them until you’ve finished! Do you have any tips that can help improve readability? Let us know! Leave a comment below.

Image: courtesy of wikimedia

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