We can fall into a lot of different traps when we write about complex subjects.
We can explain too much and include too many details. We can use unnatural language – like jargon, legalese and acronyms – that only a small number of people understand. And we can feel the need to create academic-style content to give it the prestige we think it needs.
But by doing these things in our content, we essentially challenge audiences: Read this. I dare you.
The truth is, all readers deserve clear and readable content. And there are some basic things you can do in your writing to communicate complex subjects in a simple, easy-to-understand manner.
1. Keep It Simple
Complex subject matter doesn’t give you a license for putting out exhaustive writing filled with gobbledygook that’s strung together in long sentences. Nobody wants to slog through such content. Even if your primary audience understands jargon, that doesn’t mean they want to read it.
As Nielsen Norman Group puts it: “The misconceived notion that long sentences and big words make you sound smarter (or more professional) results in great sacrifices to readability and credibility.”
That’s why your goal should always be simple content.
Delete technical jargon and legalese, or use simpler, more concise words in their place. And break up sentences to make them shorter. Whenever possible.
The readability stats in Microsoft Word can help you keep your writing in check. They measure sentence and word length to help you know how easily understood your content is for readers. Copywriting guru Ann Wylie suggests shooting for a score of 60 to 70 or higher on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.
2. Write for Skimmers
When we read content on a computer or device screen, we become skimmers. And when we skim, we get lost in long blocks of text.
That’s why it’s important that your content be highly scannable. It helps skimmers quickly understand what your content is about or find what’s most relevant to them.
Some tips for writing for skimmers:
- Section headers can break up content and help readers quickly find your main ideas or takeaways.
- Bold or italicized copy, used in a limited and consistent manner, can also help organize your content or make certain information easier to find.
- Bullets or numbering can turn a series or large chunk of information into an easy-to-scan list.
- Images and graphs not only help illustrate subjects in your writing, but they help break up content.
3. Tell a Story
We all love a good story. And it can be the perfect way to help readers understand complex topics. Instead of explaining your topic to readers, you immerse them in it.
Lots of companies use case studies. They show your product in action, and they allow you to make your content about the most interesting kind of subject: people.
But case studies aren’t the only stories you can tell. You could also, for example, tell a hypothetical story of how readers can use your new product to change how they work. Or you can use examples to help readers envision the ways that your product can improve their business.
Storytelling elements like analogies and metaphors can also help readers understand things like abstract concepts or unseen technologies. I like how this Wired article explains the Border Gateway Protocol, the system that helps optimize internet traffic routing: “Think of it like planning a cross-country drive: You need to know the different route options in each area, so you can stop at all the right corn mazes and the world’s largest rocking chair without adding too much extra driving each day.”
When adding storytelling elements to your content, remember to use vivid details and action verbs to make them resonate with readers.