When I was editing an e-book for a client recently, I realised that a lot of what I was doing was reformatting the content to improve its readability. The technical information was impressive, but it wasn’t easy to digest. The content was dense, with long sentences that sometimes had to be read a couple of times in order to understand the key message the client was trying to get across.
That’s where a professional copywriter is in their element. Not only can we see what needs to be done to ensure the information is easily understood by the target audience, we’re objective enough to be able to cut out the unnecessary bits that don’t add any value. Yes, it might hurt a little at first (after all, you’re proud of your work as you should be), but in the long run, it’s more important to end up with content that’s a pleasure to read, than something that is long-winded, confusing or boring.
If you struggle with keeping things concise and well-structured, here are some quick tips to take your content from rambling to readable:
1. Skip the buzzwords
Yes, you want to convey your expertise on a topic, but your content shouldn’t read like a university thesis. Why not? Well, to start with, unless your target readers are university professors, they’re probably not there to spend hours immersed in the detail. They want the right information delivered in the right way: short snackable sentences, a friendly tone, and language and examples they can relate to and understand.
Always consider your audience first and foremost when you’re writing content, and look after them. Take them by the hand and guide them through the information without giving in to the urge to dazzle them with your technical know-how and industry buzzwords. Keep sentences on the shorter side and avoid using words with too many syllables – there’s always a simpler way of saying something.
2. Engage with clever sub-headings
Content that’s easy to read, whether it’s on a website, in a blog article or a sales letter you received in the mail, is generally broken down into bite-sized chunks. That’s because time-poor readers often just want to scan the page to absorb the important bits. They want to get to the information they’re interested in without having to run the whole marathon.
How do you help them do this? With engaging sub-headings that capture what the paragraph is about and encourage your audience to read on. By taking a solid page of information and breaking it down into distinct paragraphs, each with their own stylish little hat on, you’re not only making your content easier to scan and absorb, you’re also enticing the reader to keep going by essentially adding a mini advertisement for what they’re about to read.
3. Light the way with signposts
Signposts are words you use to help readers navigate your content. They help connect thoughts, remind readers of what they’ve just read, and tell them where they’re going next. For example, words such as ‘In addition’, ‘As a result’ and ‘In summary’, or even a question you pose, can connect sentences so that information is easier to understand.
Signposts are important in making your content more readable because sometimes attention spans are short and distractions happen. Your readers’ attention might be starting to fade, so a good signpost at the right time will quickly bring them back to the point you’re making. Think about adding a question at the start of a paragraph such as ‘How does this benefit you?’ That’s enough to quickly grab someone’s attention and help them navigate a complex topic with you.
4. Break it up with call out boxes
A visually attractive way of breaking up content and making it more readable is with call out boxes containing quotes from your content (pull quotes), or additional information such as tips or fun facts. By sprinkling them throughout your content, not only do they effectively break up slabs of words, they also highlight the important information that you really want the readers to take away.
Choose interesting quotes that will entice readers to keep going, and stick to one thought per quote. It’s also best to have a little distance between the quote you choose and where it appears in the actual text, so it doesn’t feel repetitive to read. And, finally, don’t overdo it. You want your call-out boxes to be a welcome feature, not an over-used distraction.
5. Get your (bullet) point across
As a copywriter who creates a lot of online content, I love bullet points. They break down information into short snippets, they’re easy for readers to scan (super important for website and email copy) and they’re a great way to highlight key information. Use bullet points when you want to convey complex information quickly or reinforce key messages in a way that’s easy for the audience to follow and remember.
On the flip side, bullet points are a bit of a pain in the arse to edit because everyone seems to have their own rules when it comes to bullet point formatting. Do you start each bullet point with an upper- or lower-case letter? Do you end it with a full stop, comma or semi-colon? How far in does your indent go? How many levels are acceptable? Yes, bullet points can be a minefield, so it might be helpful to have a think about your preferred bullet point formatting before you start using them so you can be as consistent throughout your content as possible. Or, you can just hire a copywriter to sort it out for you.