The Usability Post
Thoughts on design and user experience by Dmitry Fadeyev

Make It Difficult to Read

Every article I read on writing content for the Web revolves around one key idea: make the content easy to read. It’s all about making it scannable, writing great headlines and headings, and using simple and clear language. But before you follow that advice you need to answer this: why?

Why make the content easy to read? Why not ignore readability and just focus on your own particular style? Or perhaps even make it more difficult to read? You think it’s all clear cut and writing something that’s hard to read has absolutely no value?

How about this: writing content that’s difficult to digest slows the reader down. They can’t scan it so they have to slow down and actually read it. If they cannot understand something they may even have to stop and think about what they’ve just read – perhaps even re-read it over again.

This facilitates a deeper engagement with your readers. Instead of gobbling up your content like some cheap fast food they will actually take their time to savour it and reflect back on what they’ve just read. Will you lose impatient readers looking for a quick fix? Probably. But do you care about that? What’s important to you: connecting with an intelligent audience who cares about your content or attracting as many eyeballs as possible and trying to keep them on your page?

It is hard to be understood: especially when one thinks and lives gangastrotogati among men who think and live otherwise, namely kurmagati or at best ‘as the frog goes’, mandeikagati – I am certainly doing everything I can to be hard to understand myself! – and one ought to be heartily grateful even for the will to some subtlety in interpretation.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Slicing up your content into bite size pieces and putting it on a silver plate isn’t the panacea for writing all types of Web content. If your objectives are to sell or get pageviews, then this may be a good strategy. If you’re writing a blog though, or something else that warrants deeper involvement, then you should stop and think – what am I after? Am I after pageviews or am I after readers? Maybe you’re not after either of these things – maybe you’re writing for yourself? In that case, why not make yourself difficult to understand, leaving room for interpretation and reflection?

There is no one right way to write content for the Web, just different approaches for different circumstances. Knowing your objectives can help you choose your strategy, just be sure to consider all options, especially the less obvious ones.

“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

My new book: a translation of selected short stories by Leonid Andreyev, the father of Russian Expressionism from the Silver Age of Russian literature. A piercing, pitiless glance into the heart of the human condition.

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Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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