Text Flow and Readability

While tone may vary somewhat between documents, depending on the intended audience, documents should always keep the reader interested. The federal Plain Language Guidelines (U.S. Government 2013) advise writers to accomplish this by engaging the reader, keeping it brief, and including plenty of visual interest.

To maximize readability, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Use subheadings to break up text.
  • Use bullets for list of similar items, and numbered lists for descriptions of procedures or other steps.
  • Avoid long, complex sentences and break up or otherwise reduce the length of very long paragraphs.
  • Keep similar ideas together.
  • Use the active voice.
  • Use graphics, identifying ways to present the material visually as well as with text.
  • Omit excessive detail and redundant material.

Bonus Tip for Today – When preparing lists of steps (or bullet lists), use “parallel construction.” In other words, use a similar type of sentence (or phrase) construction for all of the steps or bullet list items. As an example, each of the bulleted tips above begins with a verb in the imperative form: use, avoid, keep, omit.

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