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cre8pc

Can Your Users Read and Understand Your Content?

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I've been testing the education level of website content as part of my usability audits for at least 15 years. It's especially helpful on tech sites where the writers seem to forget that they may be addressing people with less experience, or are not used to the terms and lingo, or may be students, or slow to remember complicated sentences. 

You don't know how well your content is understood until you test it for yourself. The results are interesting. This tool offers several ways to test and explains the tests too.

Readable.io - Try it out!

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It's especially helpful on tech sites where the writers seem to forget that they may be addressing people with less experience, or are not used to the terms and lingo, or may be students, or slow to remember complicated sentences.

The site where I have the most problems with this is Google.com (and their other properties).     I can read their information many times without "getting it" - mostly because they are Z to A thinkers and I am an A to Z thinker.   And, they spread the information out across a lot of thin content pages that do not have a linear progression.  Then when I have to read and reread the backtracking is awful.

 

About sites with technical information. 

I think that many of my articles fall into this category because a lot of my content contains technical terms and the articles have a high density of information.  The technical terms require a minimum level of previous exposure to understand.    The alternative is for me to write every article from the ground up, but that would convert 2000 word articles into 6000 word articles and they would contain mostly duplicate content.  Then they would not properly serve much of the expected target audience.

So, one must decide where to set the minimum threshold.  I've set the threshold at about a 10th grade student taking college-prep courses.    I have a lot of face-to-face experience with the target audience and know that 10th grade college-prep in one school can be very different from 10th grade college-prep in another school.    

Here what I try to keep in mind when writing content that spans multiple levels of understanding, especially if some if it is difficult....  Place the easiest material at the beginning of the article, intermediate in the middle, and save the hard stuff and extraneous stuff for the end.  That gets everyone off to a good start with the easy and they can quit when their level of understanding or their interest is exceeded.   But, you should also use lots of subheadings that allow the visitor to scan the rest of the article and pick the sections that they do or don't want to read.  Lots of photos and illustrations to pull interest into more difficult topics can help a lot. 

I've used a few different readability programs to help make the writing more readable.   However, if your content requires the frequent use of words like phosphorous, spectrophotometer, orbital, ion, or polymer the readability programs are going to give you high grade levels - and that's exactly what my content is mostly targeting.    Starting at ground level can only be done if the reader is following a progression through many articles and not if the reader is dropped into an article from a search engine.   

 

 

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57 minutes ago, EGOL said:

I can read their information many times without "getting it" - mostly because they are Z to A thinkers and I am an A to Z thinker.   And, they spread the information out across a lot of thin content pages that do not have a linear progression.

And I thought is was me.... so I am not alone.

Now try to read W3C stuff.

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When I don't understand stuff at Google or W3C, I come to cre8asite to whine.. and someone explains it for me.   Usually it's iamlost, as he did again above.

 

Now, have you ever tried to read William Faulkner, who has won the highest awards for his writing?    I can't handle his writing. 

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The problem with the web is that pretty much everyone has access these days. Unfortunately, no site can be everything to everybody. Any single comprehension level will thrill a particular group while alienating, irritating all others. Basically how best to write to whom is a basic webdev business decision.

I do a variation of EGOL's, with a summary at the beginning that is at grade 4-6 level with the following in depth content a more robust 12+/- level. This satisfies pretty much everyone including those who skim and those who read, those on desktop and those on mobile.

That said the mere assumption that polysyllables and lengthy sentences are 'hard' is, I believe, because those are simple formulaic calculations to make. Much depends on the writer and the typography, for instance, that is not considered because it doesn't fit the tool. Much as so much SEO is decided by what tools and their creators assumptions and shortcomings.

Note: Lincoln's Gettysburg address gets a 'D' grade with over 50% of the sentences exceeding 30 syllables, 80% exceeding 20. Readabilty gives it an average grade level of 11.

Note: the last paragraph of Churchill's 'fight on the beaches' speech gets an "E' with over 57% of the sentences exceeding 30 syllables. Readabilty gives it an average grade level of 15.

Yet few Americans or Brits, today as then, do not thrill to the words, their emotion, their consequence, and many can quote portions. Not that our websites are as consequential as the Battle of Gettysburg or the retreat from Dunkirk :) however, my point is that readability, as SEO, is too often equated with simplistic tools' categorical output.

We are human and that means that tools are as often wrong as right and always missing understanding and context. Use the tools for your purpose not the reverse. Note: not that I think Kim has this problem!

A final critical point that overrides everything else: tell the story. All else is secondary at best.

A sort of similar thread Long Sentences by Walter, Cre8, January 2016.

For the fun of it I'll toss a layout 'aid to readability' thread from back when that is still applicable (and the framework I follow), Microcontent Discovered - Again, Cre8, October 2008.

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Much depends on the writer and the typography,

I agree.

In addition to the period at the end of sentences, there is also a paragraph break.  Using it is critically important to helping the reader understand a complex topic.  

The paragraph break gives the reader an opportunity to digest the information and a moment of rest before they move on to something new. 

Readers hate to encounter a big wall of text with no paragraph breaks.  Writers need to know that there is nothing wrong with three sentence paragraphs, two sentence paragraphs or single sentence paragraphs. 

Single sentence paragraphs can be powerful.

Edited by EGOL
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3 hours ago, EGOL said:

Readers hate to encounter a big wall of text with no paragraph breaks

Don't know how many are like me but when I meet this wall of words I usually hit the back button unless I really Really REALLY need to read it.

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45 minutes ago, bobbb said:

Don't know how many are like me but when I meet this wall of words I usually hit the back button unless I really Really REALLY need to read it.

I usually start reading it and quit after a short time.

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I was surprised when I came across it myself and realized that Dave Child aka "ilovejackdaniels" from the very early days of these forums owned it. I paid for the tool because I use it for every client and really love its ease of use.

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What most webdev sellers forget is that sales are made, not from 'just the facts', but from a story that sells the personal value of whatever. And so the typical eCom product page has a generic, often manufacturer stock, image plus a list, usually bulleted, of 'features'.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
---Little Boxes, Malvina Reynolds, 1962.

Far too many eCom (and info!) sites are all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
And to SEs as well as to customers they are all interchangeable.
And disposable.

On a website there is no human interaction, there is only the imagery and the text, which together tell a story, which together sell and together close the sale. And the more a site looks and 'talks' 'just the same' the less competitive the site, the more lost in a crowd of mediocrity.

Which is why, over the past decade plus, I've invested a lot into custom imagery to enhance tailored stories. I'm telling stories and by so doing I'm educating, entertaining, visitors as well as closing sales (ad visits/clicks, affiliate visits/leads/sales, coupon downloads/redemptions). Without the first the last suffers greatly.

Readability or grammar or spelling or other tools are great checks but too often become serious constraints. Just like most 'SEO' tools. One needs to understand when to use which and, equally importantly, when not. Unfortunately, far far too many webdevs use tools in place of thinking.

None of which takes away from the importance of such checks by such tools!

Note: to all the 22MM who use Grammarly did you know that until this past week everything you had them check could be accessed by anyone that bothered? That you grant them irrevocable worldwide free usage? That in essence many/most such apps are in essence keyloggers? I refuse to use any app/program that requires uploading content unless their ToS explicitly say that copyright remains with me and nothing is stored after service.

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I'm not sure or maybe I'm missing something. I had to throw "The Cat in the Hat" at it to get a good grade. Do I want to write like this? I gave it NYT and BBC and got poor results. Maybe I should give it Shakespeare and see... or see an article which it gave a good grade to and not Dr. Seuss.

I don't get the results of the tests I gave it. As a matter of fact I challenge it.

Jack Daniels is rot gut but you cannot not lovejackdaniels. 

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Note: to all the 22MM who use Grammarly did you know that until this past week everything you had them check could be accessed by anyone that bothered? That you grant them irrevocable worldwide free usage? That in essence many/most such apps are in essence keyloggers? I refuse to use any app/program that requires uploading content unless their ToS explicitly say that copyright remains with me and nothing is stored after service.

Yikes!    I have not used Grammarly, more than for just a few experiments.  Thank goodness.

I've used Hemingway App quite a bit and think that it can be helpful.  The writing products, as far as I know have remained on my computer, and I never found a "conditions of use" or "terms of service" or any other document on their website or the app that says anything about them getting to use or share what I write. 

 

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Unfortunately, far far too many webdevs use tools in place of thinking.

... and most of them insist upon using FREE tools.   :-)

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Since everyone has their writing thinking caps on, here is one I have been struggling with. Where does the period go? Thoughts?

This is a sentence with a quote at the end which is "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki".

Even in professional writing, you often see the sentence above with the period enclosed within the quote like this "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki."

It is easy when the quote "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki" is in the middle or in the following sentences.

During the interview the boxer made many remarks about his boxing skills.

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was. It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am."

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Plenty of people argue about where the period goes.

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This is a sentence with a quote at the end which is "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki".

In my mind the end quotation mark is in the right place in the quoted sentence above.  "The Nature of Things with David Suzuki" is a quote within that sentence, periods go at the end of a sentence, so the period should follow the end quotation mark.

Plenty of people will want to argue about this.  In my opinion they are wrong!  

So, in my writing.  I'll put the period where I please and they can run around with their panties in a wad.

If enough people do it the right way, the people who get p***ed about how they are doing it will get tired of arguing. 

Just like the question... "How many spaces should be used after a period?"  Two.  Enjoy your wad if you don't like it. It's your own making.

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Ah. So I win. Hooray for my side.... unless there are contradictory opinions. As long as there is one other person who agrees with me I won't think I am out in left field and will continue as is.

I see the point about the double spaces. Sometimes, with one space and depending on the font, it appears like there is no space between sentences.

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Sometimes, with one space and depending on the font, it appears like there is no space between sentences.

I agree.  I believe that two spaces is part of the punctuation of reading.  Take a breath at the end of the sentence before you run on into the next one.

But, there are plenty of people who argue against this.  I am betting that most of the "erudite" population thinks that there should be one space after a period, and a lot of them will fight hard to convince you that they are right.  (could not find a "finger" emoticon)

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On 2/10/2018 at 11:35 AM, EGOL said:

I'll put the period where I please and they can run around with their panties in a wad.

Damn straight.

That got me thinking about somebody complaining I don't put dates on my 'blog posts.' She was p***ed. First off it's not a BLOG!

Wasn't worth replying as my information or industry changes at a snails pace. However I grumble when looking for technology type issues without dates.

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