Sam Radford

September 24, 2023

Readable writing

I’m reading ‘Writing for Busy People’ by Jessica Lasky-Fink and Todd Rogers at the moment. 

I recommend it if your life involves any amount of writing—whether texts, emails, documents, or even books. 

The paragraph below resonated in particular. 

When you are balancing the trade-offs between readability and using longer, less common but (potentially) more precise words, ask yourself two questions. First, how valuable are the subtle differences in word meaning for conveying the essence of the sentence? Second, is the additional meaning conveyed by the harder-to-read word worth the costs of fewer readers engaging and understanding it and the increased effort required by those who do?

I work for a technology company, specifically focussed on supporting maths education. I see all manner of ‘harder-to-read’ language used in both the technology and educational contexts.

There’s a lot of what I consider ‘insider’ language. If you know, you know. If you don’t, it might as well be a foreign language. 

The argument goes that the use of a particular complex word is needed because that is the right word. But what if the right word means we are losing people, not educating people (as we might think)? 

Is it better to be precise but complex, or less precise but simpler? If we want people to stay engaged with our words, all the evidence says we should veer towards the latter. 

If we have to use certain language though, then there is a need to go above and beyond to make everything around it as straightforward as possible for readers. 

Ultimately, the key takeaway is to always think about the reader whenever we’re writing. And to make it as easy as possible for them to engage with our words. 


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About Sam Radford

Husband, father, lover of books, writer, tech geek, sports fan, and pragmatic idealist from Sheffield, England.