Usable writing

Usable writing, usable content, stuff that readers can understand, is relevant to all who write – and to all who read. Carefully inspect literature you find about readable writing or readability. A search will return plenty of useful material, such as Cheryl Stephens’ guidelines for readable writing.

Unfortunately the term readability is also associated with formulas that produce numbers, such as Flesch reading ease, Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog Index and so on. While these produce numbers reliably, the numbers are based on overly simplistic algorithms, and their use has no validity as a means to improve content usability. Sites like these are interested in selling their product, but naturally they won’t emphasise the limitations of the formulas.

The biggest danger of using readability formulas? They suggest that you write to maximise your score. This article illustrates the problems.

Pineappleskip recommends that you eschew the use of readability formulas, or at least know the vastness of their limitations. If you want to test the usability of your writing, a good start is simply to keep one of the many plain language ‘how-to’ guides in ming, and to get feedback from people who are representative of your intended audience.


Cheers, skip 

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