It’s something I hear all the time. People and businesses don’t like the idea of “dumbing down” their web content. The problem is, if people can’t pick up what you’re putting down there isn’t much value in writing it in the first place.

Write for the masses

The average Australian reading level is not actually that high. In 2006 the ABS Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey found that 37% of Australians aged 15 to 74 read at the minimum level required for “individuals to meet the complex demands of everyday life and work in the emerging knowledge-based economy.” 46% of those Australians read below that level. If you’re targeting a wide Australian customer base, chances are you should be aiming to speak to the lowest common denominator or risk missing out on a large proportion of your potential market.

Complex content could be bad for our health

A recent Deakin University study found that the readability of most Aussie online health information is above that of the average Australian reading level. Just 0.4% of the web pages were deemed to be readable at an accessible level. When you’re talking about not being able to access tools and information to combat dementia, obesity and diabetes, that is a huge concern!

We scan the web

The other thing to remember is that most of us scan through web content – perhaps more so than with any other medium. We might comprehend as little as 20% of what we read on websites. That means content structure such as headings, bullet points and paragraphs are incredibly helpful  in helping readers parse information quickly. We simply don’t have the time to sit down to read complex essays when we’re looking for a toaster or a gardener online.

Keeping it simple

This all helps to explain why I’m a firm believer in sticking to plain English and simple sentences when writing for the web. Unsure of what I mean by plain English? I’d recommend trying out the Hemingway editing app to see how you can simplify and streamline your sentences. The only exception would be if your target audience is specifically at a higher reading bracket. If you’re targeting doctors, researchers or business professionals, it’s fair to assume these readers will understand more complex language and industry terms. It all comes down to writing for your audience.