Did you know that the average reading age in the UK is equivalent to that expected of a 9-11 year old? And 1 in 6 adults in England have ‘very poor’ literacy skills, which is the equivalent of having the ability to read simple sentences and paragraphs to find a single piece of information.
Why should you care? Those 1 in 6 adults add up to over 8.7 million people, so it’s very likely it includes some of your customers. When you want to talk to your customers, it needs to be in accessible language that your audience can understand.
The Rise of Video
This may go some way towards explaining the increase in popularity of video content, with around 8 billion video views per day on Facebook alone – the viewer can sit back and simply listen to, or see, the information being given to them. Written language is not a barrier.
However, let’s not write off words completely. Even videos should have captions to aid those who cannot hear the content (either through deafness or hearing loss, or through choice – lots of people scroll with sound off). And at some point, you’d like that person to visit your website, read that blog or click on that article, all of which require words.
How to make your writing accessible
It’s important to find the right words for your audience. If you’re writing for an academic publication or need to offer technical expertise, of course you’ll use the appropriate language for the situation. But if you want to communicate with the public at large, you need to keep your language easy to read and simple to understand.
There’s a popular quote which is (probably incorrectly) attributed to Einstein:
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”(Probably not) Albert Einstein
Whether he said it or not, it’s a good one to bear in mind. If your piece can be understood by a child, it’s likely to be ready to publish. When jargon and unnecessarily long words start to creep in, you run the risk of confusing your reader. In this era of fast facts and quick information, people often don’t have the patience to stick with you – they’ll click elsewhere and you’ll lose your customer.
Make the layout simple
While there’s nothing quite like settling down with a good book, many of us have far less time and pay far less attention to the majority of text we look at. Make your writing nice and clear, with chunks of text, sub-headings and pictures to make it easier for your reader to skim and be able to pick out what they need.
What about the font?
However well-written your work is, it needs to be easy to see. Make sure your text is large enough and well-spaced so that it can be seen easily and that you choose colours which provide a good level of contrast. Black and white is a classic, black and yellow provides a high level of contrast, whereas something like red and blue should be avoided at all costs!
I only learnt recently that there are fonts which are dyslexia friendly and easier for children to read. These tend to be the fonts with a single storey ‘a’ (the circle with a little stalk, rather than the version often seen on screen with a hook over the top) and rounded letter shapes – more similar to handwriting than some of the fonts which have evolved for the screen.
There are a number of fonts you can choose which fulfil this such as ABeeZee in Google or Futura in Microsoft Word (so step away from Comic Sans….)
Do we need to dumb everything down?
Of course not. Literacy levels are not an indication of intelligence, and people don’t like to feel patronised. However, avoiding jargon, unnecessarily long words and making sure your writing is clear to read will benefit everyone. It’s possible (and arguably better) to communicate really complex issues in clear terms which everyone can understand.
‘Hey Duggee’ is an amazing example of this – a kids’ show which tackles topics including philosophy, elections and sharing in a way a three year old can take on board. If you haven’t watched it before, give it a go – it’s only 7 minutes long and I guarantee it’ll make you smile!
If you need a hand simplifying your work or want your messages to reach more people, get in touch, we’d love to help!