The use of digital medium has given us many advantages over the written. Yet we still find ourselves treating them the same, using it as we might use a pen and paper. When we understand the factors that affect readability only then can we empathise with our readers and offer the best possible versions of the content we write. When the modern-day readers are presented with endless options, a lot rides on the first immediate impression we create. It is the overall reading experience we create that will keep revisiting our work.
In this post I will cover five simple ways with which you can improve the reading experience you have to offer:
- Using right language
- Comprehensive formatting
- Design strategies
- The advantages of visuals
- Improving accessibility
If the pen used by a writer is likened to a sword then the language you use is comparable to your swordsmanship, the mastery and skill with which you wield such a weapon.
As content writers our main goal is to get information across to our readers; to be able to share our ideas. However knowledgeable we may be on the subject matter; our writing will be in vain if it is not understood. This is why we must think as a reader when we write and more importantly who exactly we are writing for.
Some companies create buyer personas to better empathise and understand their target audience. Knowing their goals, motivations, background and needs helps them build their brand catering to this target audience. Similarly, we too must identify our target audience in order to understand them better, you can ask yourself questions such as what age bracket do they fall into? Are they detail oriented? Are they patient? What are their needs? When you have an idea of who you are writing then you will know exactly what and more importantly how to write.
Setting the tone
If the first most important thing. It establishes what exactly the reader can expect from you. The tone of writing is conveyed by the chosen diction, the grammar used and the level of formality.
Formal writing uses third person narration and does not casually address its readers. When on the other hand, informal writing is casual and laid back. We use second person narration with words like you, we, us. This makes it feel like a personal conversation you can have with your individual readers. Switching between the use of both narrative techniques can be confusing and jarring for the reader so make sure you stick to one.
Take a look at the site Buzzfeed, they write articles around pop culture, the latest trends or bring to the forefront what is new and hip on the internet. They keep their audience’s attention with their use of humour, easy short articles with curiosity provoking headlines and engaging with their audience. The language used is that spoken by teens and young adults since that is primarily their audience. Buzzfeed India does the same but references Indian pop culture and uses language that its Indian audience can relate to.
Shmoop is an educational site with study guides for works of literature. They however make their information fun and entertaining. Since their content is study guides their readers are mainly students. Unlike other sites that also have study guides; Shmoop does their best to keep the attention of students who get easily bored and offer a more fun way of studying. Their use of colloquial language and humour is their unique selling point.
On the other hand, we have sites like moneycontrol. This site is all about finances, all from mutual funds to insurances. Their information is highly data based and intended for a much more mature audience. The language used is formal with no uses of words such as ‘you’ or ‘I’, that is they write in third person to keep it at a professional level.
If you are confused as to what the tone for your writing should be, remember that “content dictates form” and in the end it is the type of content that decides what your writing style should be.
Since our main goal is to reach a broader audience, we can only benefit from making what we write easy-to-read. Consider using simple language and avoid over embellishment. Long and complex sentences mainly confuse the readers and may not be able to keep their attention for an extended period of time. This is why ensure that when writing you have sentence length variation. It makes all the difference and helps reduce monotony. Breaking down the ideas into different paragraphs also helps structure your writing, helps in easy digestion of content and adds to the reading experience.
Stuart Hall: Encoding and Decoding
Ideas can technically never be conveyed perfectly. When we encode a message, we must do so in a way that is easy for the reader to decode it. Stuart hall explains this well in his model of encoding and decoding. The receiver often brings their own experiences, knowledge and biases when deciphering a message. This means their interpretation of it may or may not the message the sender intended it to be. This is why we try our best to use language as a tool to convey our ideas and perfectly as possible and help improve the reading experience.
It is often overlooked when creating digital content. This is possibly because it often goes unnoticed and is not particularly obvious to the layman. What exactly is typography? It is the study and art of how to make written work more legible. Small choices like font type, size, colour and largely impact the readability of our text. Which is why it doesn’t hurt to learn about this field of study.
The main two types of fonts are serifs and sans serifs. Serifs are the tiny decorative embellishments at the ends of characters: they are also called as feet. Serif sans are stylistically simple and do not have serifs.
The sans serif fonts are clean and simple, this makes them easier to read as the eye can easily distinguish between the individual letters of the alphabet. This is why the sans serif fonts are used mostly for the bodies of texts since they have higher readability than that of serif fonts. Serif fonts however make you come off as more reliable and sophisticated. It also evokes a sense of trust. This is perhaps because it is one of the older font styles, the feet are because of the way letters were chiseled onto rock. Serif fonts stand out more and are used for the headings, so as to draw our eye to it.
Distinguishing between Serif and Serif Sans
Decorative fonts are mainly used for logos. As they have more personality to them it helps in establishing brand identity.
They are meant to stand out and grab your attention. This is why you can opt for a different font from that of the body of the text and use a bigger font size to draw out the contrast between the two. One commonly made is the over usage of bold words. Only a few words or phrases are to be made bold. Entire paragraphs in bold strain the reader’s eyes and negatively impact the reading experience.
Give thought to what words are to be italicised or underlined. Never use all three at once. The use of all caps can also have a jarring effect as it comes off as screaming. Learning to block and compartmentalise you writing lends it a structure. Architecturally sound structures are easy to navigate for readers. Change paragraphs when introducing new topics or ideas.
Seeing large undifferentiated mass of information can seem daunting. Breaking it down to topics and subtopics lends it certain structure and the smaller parts are easier to digest.
Creating hierarchy by having headings and sub headings always makes writing comprehensible. This gives the reader a clear layout. Having a shorter summarised version of the body near the top of the page can help the reader get a quicker answer to their question without having to scroll through pages worth of information. This also means you are optimising for featured snippets in google which show above the first ranking search. Keeping these few formatting tips in mind can improve the reading experience.
Favouring the Left to Right
Westerners read from left to right, this means we have through the years been conditioned to take up information in the same direction. If you are searching for a particular book on a bookshelf chances are you’ve started from the left. Knowing this lets us take advantage of it. All action buttons that ask you to sign up or register etc, appear as pop ups on the right side.
Google search engine also reads information from left to right and top to bottom. This is why keywords are better noticed when towards the top and more towards the left.
After all the hard work of optimising a search engine and writing good content with captivating headlines, you need to then keep the attention of people you have invited on to your page. If your site is performing exceptionally well then you are likely to have a bounce rate of between 20 to 40%. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who view your site without exploring other pages or content on it. This is why first impressions are so important. It is within seconds that you have to captivate your audience. If they are unimpressed, they can simply visit one of the other hundred sides recommended to them.
The blink test is used to determine what impression is created by a visual within the span of a few seconds. This technique is used in most design like web and product design.
Design plays a crucial and powerful role in using the visual to attract your target audience and to set you apart from your competition. Design strategies can be implemented for various purposes, from- choosing the right colours and fonts to placement of information and call to action buttons. All of these are important factors to improving the reading experience.
Long gone are the shoddy designs of the early 2000’s websites with their spinning texts and rainbow fonts. We now are able to make conscious choices when it comes to picking colours. We understand its power to evoke emotions and bring certain connotations with them. Colour is a crucial part of design; it can also come to be associated with the brand you create and add to brand identity.
For example, here are a few emotions people associate with certain colours
Blue and its various shades are coming which is why a lot of these colours used in hospitals for nurseries
Bold colours like bright red call for the attention of the viewer. red colour that is used to highlight important information. the button for call to action are usually in red or some shade of it.
Purples and violets create the feeling of sophistication and royalty. They can make you seem classy, trustworthy and experienced.
Yellow is known to invoke the feelings of joy and happiness. It is a colour that is fun and bright.
How web design uses colour
Hues: another word for colour, each section on the colour wheel is a different hue
Saturation: it is the intensity of brightness of these hues
Value: this is the amount of white or black added to a particular hue; this is how we get lighter or darker shades of the same hue. Adding white produces tints and adding black produces shades
Together, these three components can help you create harmonious colour palettes.
this palette is the simplest one of all. It uses only one hue and different saturation and values of the same hue to give it contrast. It easy to use and creates a cohesive look.
This colour pallet can be achieved by picking hues that are right next to each other on the colour wheel. Example: reds and purple or green and yellow
The complementary colour scheme involves choosing colours that are directly across from each other on the colour wheel. They offer contrasts between warm and cool tones.
For example: blue and orange or red and green.
Picking three hues from the colour wheel that are all equidistant from each other. These pallets are generally harder to use well. To avoid unnatural designs with too many colours these pallets tend to use a main colour and have the others as accents.
There are online tools available to help you with choose from ready-made colour schemes like colorhunt.
When using colour, it is important to play with values and saturation to get enough contrast between the hues that you have selected. This is especially important when it comes to fonts colours. If the colour of the font and background are similar in value there will not be enough contrast. This is especially nightmarish for readers with visual impairments.
You may have noticed the use of blocks in making web pages. There are different blocks for text, photos, videos and quotes. The placement of these blocks is very important, and you can use it to your advantage.
If you want to highlight a particular text or picture have it in the centre where our eyes are naturally drawn to it. Sometimes you can have a block go outside the lines of your margin too! The asymmetry stands out and highlights its components in the same way.
Avoid over crowding the space, it gives a cluttered look and can be distracting and confusing for the readers. White space is a necessity, giving the eyes rest as it travels between different blocks. Broad margins help centre your information so as to spare the reader the trouble of travelling the entire lengths of their laptop screens.
The human brain can process visual information faster than it can any text. According to psychologist Allan Paivio, the information that is stored in our brains exists verbally (using language) or through imagery. This is how information is coded in us. For pictures, there is dual coding which means it is coded as words and as imagery as opposed to the single coding for text that is only verbal and not through imagery. The picture superiority effect is attributed to this dual coding system that we have. This system which is responsible for easy and more accurate retrieval of information can be used to our advantage.
Pictures also come to play when considering spatial memory. We are more capable of recalling where we have seen a picture than where we have seen a word or sentence. For all these aforementioned reasons we can say that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’
The modern-day readers are known to skim over text. Merely glancing over the headings, sub headings and the key words that are in bold is enough to give the reader a fair idea of what the article is about. Using pictures, info-graphics, flashcards and videos allows for readers to spend more time on your site. Which means they will tend to explore other areas and read other articles recommended to them. This will drastically decrease the bounce rate of your site.
Sites like Canva can help you design slides, posters or posts for your social media. Using different media like videos, gifs, pictures and info-graphics keep people engaged and improve their reading experience.
In this digital age we see variety of users each with their own unique set of needs. We may not be able to cater to each and every one but we can do our best to avoid alienating a large part of the audience. Inclusivity plays a big role in user experience. The requirements of the elderly, people with physical and learning disabilities are all different. There are a few easy ways with which we can be more inviting to our readers
Option of Custom Text
Those with poor eyesight, dyslexia or learning disabilities have difficulty with reading text on screens. Having the option of customisable text can make a big difference to them. Being able to change the font styles, size and spacing between letters can help improve readability. The comic sans font style gets a lot of flak for being unprofessional but it is a little-known fact that this font makes reading easier for people with dyslexia and is also suitable for children.
Keep your design simple. Make sure the pages have proper leading lines to help give direction to the reader. Having poor page composition or layout can be very distracting. For readers with dyslexia, ADD and ADHD this is especially important. Having too many elements can be very confusing, even having advertisements can prove to be distracting.
Having good contrast between text and background is listed as a requirement by the W.C.A.G- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Private owned websites must meet certain standards or lawfully can be sued by their users. Links must be in a different colour so it is made obvious to the reader.
Optimising for Screen Reader software
Screen reader is a software that is commonly used by people who are blind, have visual impairments or even those with learning disabilities. This assistive technology highlights and reads out the words on the screen. However, it cannot read pictures without a little assistance from us. Adding Alt texts that are descriptive can help the screen reader read out any pictures it comes across and improve their reading experience.
Having headings and subheadings help the screen reader navigate the page. Adding search bars or navigation bars can also assist our readers.
The relationship we build with our readers does not stop with publishing your content at your blog or site. To build and grow our audience, we need to give them reasons to stick around. Social media acts as a platform to connect with your readers. Let them know that the conversation is not one sided. Encourage feedback, what better way to learn the needs of your readers than from themselves.
Empathising with our audience, understanding their needs is what will make us better at our crafts. That we may recognise our shortcomings and improve ourselves. By paying heed to the language we use, the way we present our work, making it inclusive and accessible we are inviting a greater number of people to enjoy what we create. The reading experience when implementing these will surely be a memorable one.