How many words are too many?

Who needs words anyway?

Language and the written word are our key forms of communication, but with our ways and means of communicating undergoing radical change – at lightning pace – how can we get our message across? Readability refers to the way your reader understands your writing – and gets the message.

Reading online is different

If you’re involved in blogging, content marketing or writing for the web, your job is only getting harder. In the digital realm, reading has generally been replaced with scrolling. There are any number of studies that show that online readers find it very hard to stay focussed. Online readers usually have multiple windows open and they’re swiping, tapping and clicking constantly between all of the apps and programs they have open.

Things don’t improve much even when your reader has decided to read your story, with most readers quitting before they make it to the bottom of the page and around 10% of readers leaving after just reading the headline and first sentence.

There are formal readability formulas and a host of online readability apps and websites that can give your writing a readability score – based on character, syllable, word and sentence count. But there are also some general rules that can make writing more readable, particularly on the web and these rules apply to page design as much as the mechanics of good writing.

  1. According to the American Press Institute, when sentences are fewer than eight words, readers understood 100 percent of the story. With 9-14 word sentences, readers understood more than 90%, but with 43-word sentences, comprehension dropped to less than 10 percent.
  2. Character count is as important (if not, more important) than word count because we’re talking about optimal line length on a screen. Try to keep your line length around 50-60 characters. If a line is too wide across the screen, the reader will find it harder to focus. If it’s too narrow, the eyes need to work too hard scanning back and forward making it difficult to get into a good reading rhythm. And, remember – increasingly screens are mobile and tablet devices. For maximum readability, always review your copy on a mobile device.
  3. Don’t just chop sentences. They make reading too abrupt. The writing seems basic. Instead, use conjunctions, these can help you create sentences that meet that maximum readability length of around eight words because they help you link clauses (ideas/subjects) together. Examples of conjunctions include: and, but, or, for, than, that, because, although, while, which, that, also and many more.
  4. A picture is worth a thousand words. So is a video or an infographic. Think creatively and your reader will reward you!

Are you too busy to worry about word count, line length and readability? We can help you with all your digital strategy needs, including content marketing and copywriting. Call us on +61 7 3844 0577 to find out how we can make your content perfect for the web and more readable for your customers.

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