Reading comprehension: Do your readers understand what you are saying?

If you write books or articles for the web, reading comprehension is extremely important, please read on…

Real journalists (and authors) are seemingly a dying breed. I am all for the internet giving everyone, including the average (and below average) citizen a voice. However, the average citizen in the US is obviously not getting the required training they need to become a writer who can be easily understood. If you write books, this is even more important for you to understand.

Regarding the current vulnerability in Internet Explorer, an article from pcmag.com states:

“Microsoft said that Enhanced Protected Mode, on by default in IE10 and IE11, as well as Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET) 4.1 and EMET 5.0 Technical Preview, “will help protect against this potential risk.” But until a patch is released, IE users should be on high alert and not click on any sketchy links or travel to unknown sites, or temporarily switch to another browser.”

Now I know exactly what they are saying here but I know for a fact that the average person will not understand what this paragraph is saying. It is saying to temporarily switch browsers, yet it reads that it recommends NOT switching. The lack of a few words implies the exact opposite meaning to the paragraph. I have extremely good reading comprehension and I had to read the paragraph a few times to fully grasp exactly what they are saying. The average person will not reread the paragraph multiple times, they will read the paragraph, assume it means exactly how they just read it, and move on.

When writing articles, stories, etc, please be aware that reader comprehension of your article or story is extremely important. I run into this myself when I write articles for my numerous websites or write my books. At times, I rewrite sentences or even paragraphs multiple times so my point can be easily understood. I agonize over it to the point that it drives friends and family crazy. It at times drives me crazy too, however I have been told numerous times that my stories are well written and easy to understand.

I remember my son would try to make his point in as few words as possible when doing his homework. He would then come to me and ask for help because he needed a minimum number of words and he was far short. I would read his work and make suggestions. My biggest suggestion for him was to “puff it up”. Puff it up simply means to add words or sentences that add to what he had written. It didn’t necessarily mean to add new paragraph or information, it was adding just what it needed to get his word count but also add to the readability and ease of understanding. I would send him off to puff his story up and he would bring it back for me to read again. My son would always suggest adding very simple words like and or the to add to the word count. That just doesn’t cut it.

I would read a paragraph and suggest he add a word here or there, clarify a point, add a little more useful information, etc. In no time he had the required number of words, and every time, the work was much easier to read and easier to comprehend. Regardless of what you are told, short and sweet isn’t always best. At times, you need to add a little to the story to make it more easily understood. My son was always amazed that by just adding a few words, restructuring a sentence, or adding a sentence or two to clarify a point made his work more easy to understand and always put him above his word count – often by a significant amount.

This is an extremely important habit to get into but there are some pitfalls too. There are times where puffing it up can go too far. If the words and sentences you add do not truly add anything to the story, leave them out. If what you add does not clarify a point, make a topic more easy to understand, describe something in more detail, or make the story more easy to comprehend, don’t do it.

I always suggest getting another person to go over your work. I always ask someone, usually my girlfriend, to read what I have written and critique my work. Spelling is hardly an issue for me because I spell quite well, however, at times I forget to clarify a point well enough for the average person to understand. By simply adding to, or restructuring the paragraph, I can easily fix my mistakes. She will often point out where I can improve.

I always read my girlfriends work before she publishes as well. I often let her know where I have a hard time comprehending her point or where a few added words will make her point more easy to understand. I also let her know what she can remove because it adds nothing to the topic and actually causes some confusion.

We never take each others suggestions personally and neither should you. If you find someone you trust to give you honest opinions and suggestions, take them. Use their opinion to help you make your story better. You don’t have to do exactly what they suggest but you can use their suggestions to open your eyes on how your story can be made better. Don’t use their suggestions word for word, write it how you want, it will blend and flow with the story. Using their suggestions word for word may make the sentence stand out because it is not written in the style you normally use.

Remember, you are writing for other people; you know what your story is about, they have to read and understand what you are telling them. Reading comprehension isn’t a skill everyone has and as a writer it is your job to make your story understood. Don’t lose readers, fans, sales, etc. because your story or article can not be easily understood.

Make your words count, don’t just count your words.