Chapter 6 - Make the article readable

While reading an article most of us continuously make a cost-benefit analysis: Is reading this article worth the effort – compared to all my other tasks? That is why an author should try to minimize the barriers to reading.

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You have attracted the potential reader, and you even convinced him/her to go further into the text, because the topic is relevant, and because you present your information in a interesting way (Chapter 4 and 5).

Still, you don’t want to make the reading of your article more complicated and strenuous than necessary. While reading an article most of us continuously make a cost-benefit analysis: Is reading this article worth the effort – compared to all my other tasks? That is why an author should try to minimize the barriers to reading.  (S)he should attempt to make the process of reading and understanding as smooth as possible.

Of course, this can be overdone. We are not writing for children. Dealing with adult education we will mostly be writing for professionals and specialists. But, authors and correspondents are much more likely to write in a too complicated way than the opposite. This is especially true for writers that are not professional educated journalists.

First we will give you a small list of very simple tricks that makes reading easier.

  • Be careful not to write many very long sentences, especially with interposed sentences. Such sentences will quickly turn into riddles that force the reader to analyse the sentence, go back and start all over again. Break them up into shorter sentences. Not only will this help the reading process, it will often make you points stand out more clearly.
  • Alternate between long (not very long) and short sentences. The other extreme are all very brief sentences like: “The institution developed a new course. They used a special method for the course. The method was developed by the innovation team.” This kind of text may be easier to read than long sentences, but it is boring, and there is no natural flow in the text.
  • Avoid very long paragraphs. An article with long paragraphs graphically sends a very uninviting signal. It makes it difficult for the reader to separate the different elements of the text. There is no natural pause for the reader. You should separate into a new paragraph when you introduce a new piece of information or a new point. Anyway, it is helpfull to consider a new paragraph after two or three sentences.
  • If possible, use active rather than passive voice, and make human beings the agent of the sentence>:
    • Rather: “The teacher explained how to…” Than: “The participant was taught how to…”
    • Rather: “Professor XX made an empirical study on this type of institution” Than: “an empirical study came out on this type of institution”
  • “Translate” scientific or other kind of expert language into more everyday language if possible. Very often an author will work on the basis of expert material or expert interviews. Authors may even become experts in the field of adult education. Then the expert language tends to “infect” the reporting language. Still without falling in to the trap of “baby language”, it is useful to consider if your point can be told without out too much “insider lingo”.
  • Use 2-4 subheadings of 4-5 words in an ordinary length article. Subheadings should also be catchy and interesting. Subheadings can be used to move the story forward with the use of only a few words.
  • Some types of articles (See Chapter 3) can be composed of facts, direct quotes or indirect quotes, the viewpoint of the persons quoted (experts, politicians, participants etc.) and sometimes even the viewpoint of the author. Such a mixture can work very well. BUT: you must show very clearly what-is-what. The reader will be confused and have to stop reading  in order to analyse, if it is not very obvious when there is a quote and when it is the author of the article that explains something.
  • Names of institutions, book titles, titles and grades of individuals, figures and abbreviations can all be necessary and useful information. But it puts a brake on the reading flow. Whenever possible, you should remove this kind of information from the article proper and place it in special boxes.

These are only a few advices from the journalist text-book. Others you can find in educational literature for journalists. A lot of it you can figure out yourself by looking at the article with the eyes of a reader that are not familiar with the topic.