A blog post is only as useful as it is readable. If you want your blog to drive paying clients to your law firm or small business, you need to be certain it gives readers value. That means they need to be able to read it without getting lost. But you work in a technical field. How can you, the trained professional, cut through the jargon and write high readability posts?
Last week’s post talked about the Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula and what it means for blog writers in technical industries, like law. It can be difficult to write blog posts on highly complicated legal issues in a way simple enough for the average reader to understand, and still get the high readability score you need for SEO purposes. Here are some tips that can help.
Use Shorter Sentences
Lawyers are taught to write in complex ways from their first semester of law school. We are trained to string ideas together with commas. We list synonyms and related ideas. We clarify ourselves through dashes, commas, and parenthetical phrases. All these writing strategies can be useful, even necessary, when drafting contracts or advocating in briefs read by judges. But they can be utterly baffling to the average reader.
If you want a high readability score, “you must unlearn what you have learned.”
You must put aside your legal drafting training and write the way you would talk to a potential client in your office. That means keeping your sentences short. Use periods, not commas.
Use Short, Simple Words
Lawyers are wordsmiths by nature. We spend countless hours finding exactly the right term for the circumstances. As a result, we gather extensive vocabularies. But, particularly in consumer-facing areas, our clients often won’t have access to the same terminology we do. When it comes to blogging, you need to jettison the jargon and stick to short, simple words.
If you think avoiding legalese is impossible, given the technical nature of the legal industry, imagine breaking down scientific theory into readable language. The book Thing Explainer, by Randall Monroe of the web-comic XKCD.com explains complex scientific ideas using only the most common “ten hundred” (1,000) words. (The word “thousand” was not one of the 1,000 most common words.) Here’s how he explains literal rocket science:
Obviously, on your blog you don’t need to restrict yourself to the same “ten hundred” words. But it demonstrates how even highly technical issues can be explained using small, simple words that will result in a high readability score online.
Break Up Your Paragraphs
Paragraph structure is another battleground where formal education and readability clash. Formal writing education, in college and law school, teaches future attorneys the paragraph structure of “assertion, evidence, commentary”: make your point, support it with evidence, then explain how the evidence supports your point. This works great on paper. But on a screen — especially a mobile device — it creates a wall of text that can be hard to read.
When it comes to blogging, you need to break up your paragraphs and increase the white space on the screen. Rather than treating each paragraph as a complete argument, think of paragraphs as representing a complete thought. If you would pause while speaking, you may want to add a hard return.
There is no hard rule for the number of sentences in an online paragraph. Some of it depends on the length of your sentences. Generally, pay more attention to the number of lines on the screen — maybe no more than five or six — rather than the number of periods.
Writing a high readability blog post requires lawyers, particularly, to turn off their professional training. We need to remember how it felt sitting in front of our first casebooks, and do everything we can to help our readers understand the issues in front of them. By doing so we will bring the complexity of our writing down and our Flesch readability scores up.
Lisa Schmidt is a writer for Legal Linguist in Ferndale, Michigan. She provides blogging and web content for lawyers and small business. If you need help creating readable content for your professional website, contact Legal Linguist today to schedule a meeting.