This article isn’t about how you appeal to people with Dyslexia. It’s about how understanding the difficulties dyslexic people have when reading will help you write for all your readers more effectively!
Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty that typically creates a barrier to literacy and numeracy skills. We tend to think of it as a difficulty that means people struggle with spelling or numbers.
That certainly is the case. But it also affects many other things related to writing and reading skills.
Dyslexia is now more accepted than ever. People now realise that dyslexia isn’t an indication of someone’s ability or intelligence, and that instead, it’s a barrier that gets in the way of a set of very specific skills.
Let’s just take a moment to think about some of the inspirational and incredibly talented people that have Dyslexia:
- Richard Branson (balloon pilot)
- Albert Einstein (great hair)
- Whoopi Goldberg (nun)
- Steven Spielberg (dinosaur lover)
- Henry Winkler (invented cool)
If we just take reading, a dyslexic person will generally find the following things difficult:
- Reading long sentences;
- Understanding complex words and technical jargon;
- Understanding figurative and metaphorical language;
- Reading large blocks of text;
- Following complex structures across a text;
- Understanding what they read first time (it often takes 2-3 times of reading before it’s understood)
I imagine, if you’re like me, you’ll read those things and realise that maybe you struggle with one or two of them too!
That doesn’t mean you’re dyslexic. There’s many other skills that combine to mean a diagnosis of Dyslexia.
The fact is, everybody struggles with some things that dyslexics do.
Maybe not all the time, not all at once, and to varying degrees. But at certain times of day you’ll find it difficult to read large blocks of text because your eyes are tired.
When you’re busy, you’ll find it difficult to read long sentences because you’ve got other stuff on your mind.
You might shy away from large blocks of text because you simply can’t be bothered to put the effort in to read them!
And that doesn’t mean you have a specific barrier to reading. It just means when something’s harder to do, or we don’t see any value in doing it, we’ve got more important things to be getting on with!
So what does this mean when you’re writing content?
I spent several years working in the Learning Support department of a College / University, working with 16+ students doing level 3 or degree level courses.
I helped them with their literacy skills, and I helped support tutors with their differentiation for students with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dyspraxia, Autism and a range of other difficulties. And there was one thing that stood out every time:
Tutors that made work accessible for a dyslexic student meant everyone was able to access the work quicker and more confidently.
The work wasn’t easier. It wasn’t shorter or needed less time. It was just communicated to the class in a much simpler way.
And here lies the secret! By making something more simple to read, you’re not `dumbing down` the message. You’re actually helping everyone understand the message you want to get across quicker.
Do we have time every day to read your 5 minute blog? Yes, if it’s worth it.
Do we have the time and patience to trawl through a whole page of your website just to figure out what you do? No. I’ll look somewhere else.
Do we want to try and figure out what on earth you’re talking about with all your technical language and business mumbo jumbo? Unlikely.
So whenever you’re writing for someone else to read, consider these things:
- Make your sentences short. Aim for less than 20 words, but maximum 30!
- Break paragraphs up into shorter blocks. Less than 60 words is ideal, so 2-3 sentences.
- Bullet point easy information. It’ll stand out, and just get straight to the point.
- Use sub-headings to structure your message. Make it easy to follow the flow of the message and guide your audience through what you’ve got to say.
- Don’t use technical language and jargon.Don’t use technical jargon unless you’re absolutely certain that your target audience needs it. Don’t assume that because they’ll understand it they’ll appreciate it.
And once you’ve finished, ask yourself:
Could someone who finds reading difficult, for whatever reason, read this comfortably?
If the answer’s no, you need to make some changes.
If you want help reaching a wider audience, call me on 07772 892 698.
Take a look at the Dyslexia Trust’s website if you want to learn more about Dyslexia.