Writing for Readability

Read the original entry in Working with Words: A Handbook for Media Writers and Editors, Eighth Edition, by Brian S. Brooks, James L. Pinson, and Jean Gaddy Wilson

To keep your writing clear and easily understood, follow these tips:

  • Keep most paragraphs one or two sentences long.
  • Make a quotation that forms a complete sentence into its own paragraph. 
  • Keep sentences an average of 16 words long.
  • Make sure that leads are short and uncomplicated.
  • Vary sentence lengths and patterns to provide pacing and to avoid monotony and choppiness.
  • Avoid compound sentences, especially ones that use semicolons. 
  • Cut out words and phrases that don’t add meaning.
  • Avoid the passive voice, which by its nature is wordy.
  • Use short, simple, common words; these are best for journalism. 
  • Avoid foreign expressions and jargon.
  • Explain difficult or technical terms if you need to use them.
  • Use adjectives and adverbs only when they are essential. 

By the way, the shortest words are usually also the most common, but there are expectations. Some longer words, such as important, are clear to everyone while shorter words, such as fud, are not. Given the choice between a short uncommon word and a longer common one, choose the more common one. 

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