Old Cake: Fresh Frosting
“Is my goal to keep readers engaged?”
Experts suggest that web writers aim to keep their posts on a sixth grade reading level unless the site for which they write is inherently high-minded. This sells most readers short and does nothing to improve the cyberscape.
However, as Shane Snow articulated after polling friends about actual reading levels of popular bestselling novels and discovering that while they assumed that the work of those authors would contain better writing and presumably higher reading levels, he said, “data shows the opposite: lower reading level often correlates with commercial popularity and in many cases, how good we think a writer is.“
For the web, dumbing down text more aptly applies when copy is meant to be taken in small bites as in the Reader’s Digest “Funny Stuff” headline The 12 Unluckiest Dumb Criminals Ever.
For sites frequented by academics or experts in a particular field, the preferred text uses the reader’s vocabulary, common jargon and acronyms associated with the field underpinned by research and an educated understanding of the subject matter.
A middle, obvious niche exists. It serves to illuminate through deeper research and discussion, added opinion, and insights that include numerous facets of an issue. The inclusion of both quality content and potent vocabulary that hold the reader’s interest without confounding allow for extended article length.
No matter the site for which you write, have a sense of humor or at least the ability to see the lighter, optimistic viewpoint of your subject matter. Write as you would speak to a friend or colleague. Otherwise, your writing will be a lot like putting fresh frosting on an old cake; you may lose your reader after the first byte.