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Making content more readable and relatable

It’s now time to think about how to make written content appealing and engaging, whatever the tone used or intention behind it.

Online content covers a vast variety of formats, including longer pieces of written copy of more than 100 words or so. This could mean a blog post, article or explanatory content on a page, for example, the ‘about our services’ page on a corporate website.

How long do people spend reading content online? The answer is: it depends. Not all content is alike, and not all content is able to grab the reader’s attention or keep it until the end of the text. Here are some ways you can make sure the style of your longer-form written content is easy to skim read, and communicates your ideas.

Computer illustration of different devices communicating

Skim reading

The first thing to remember is that people often don’t read content at all, but instead skim over it. They read quickly, while scrolling, letting their gaze hop from place to place as things jump out of the text. So it’s important to make longer-form writing accessible for those who skim read, as well as good for those who read and review content in detail.

Some writing habits help with this.

  • Use short paragraphs to break up the text. White space on the page makes it easier to scan for relevance.

  • Use short sentences. Don’t write long, convoluted sentences that take up an entire paragraph. Avoid using sentences with multiple parts. Steer clear of unnecessary detail or minor related comments and get to the point.

  • Vary sentence length. If all your sentences are short, the copy will read too much like a telegram. As with speech, mix up short sentences with slightly longer ones to improve the rhythm of the piece.

  • Use lists or bullet points (like these) to structure your content (where it makes sense), and improve readability.

  • Break up the text with section headings. Use full-size images or add inline images relating to the text. You can also add blockquotes to highlight important content and pullquotes which emphasise key phrases from your text. You can see images used throughout this article and an example of a blockquote here:

Using blockquotes helps break up your text and makes it easier to read.

Language and style

The style of writing can also help make it easier to read. The conventions of spoken language are useful to bear in mind, and provide some helpful tips for your written language.

  • Think about how your writing would work when read aloud. People tend to spend more time reading content which feels like natural language or communication, rather than formal or academic essays.

  • Ask questions, and provide answers if you have them. Rhetorical questions can also be effective. The reader doesn’t need to have an answer, but the question challenges them to think, for example:

“But could traditional fuels ever be eclipsed by sustainable alternatives?”

  • Use active voice, not passive voice. It’s clearer and more dynamic. For example:

“The island is visited by millions of tourists each year” is passive, while the active voice version would be “Millions of tourists visit the island each year.”

  • Use personal pronouns. You, I, we, us, all help to make copy more persuasive and draw the reader into the material.

  • Use stories readers can relate to. They’re great openers, capture attention, stimulate curiosity and illustrate key points.

All these tips for writing longer-form copy can help make your content more engaging and approachable, but what will make the biggest difference is to be authentic, honest and human. These tips won’t allow you to manipulate people, but they may help to bring your intended audience closer to your work, and encourage them to spend longer reading and understanding it.

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This article is from the free online course:

How to Create Great Online Content

University of Leeds