Charming an Overlooked Readership

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Writing for Those with Reading Difficulties

The first rule of writing is: know your audience. For the blogger that means being on the lookout for the trend of the moment-the thing that interests a lot of people. After that, to at least some extent, attracting and keeping readers is about getting there first-finding the trend and blogging about it before everyone and his dog blogs about it, too.

Of course, if you get there first, but your writing has no pizazz, you’ll miss your mark and your audience will pass you by without a second thought.  But that’s just one hump. It’s not just about the writing. If you want your blog to be a draw you’ll want to make judicious use of graphic design and graphic images so your blog compels the eyes to take a closer look at the content.

Cool Graphics

So, say you’ve covered those bases: your finger is on the pulse of what’s new and interesting, you’ve got a great design, and you use lots of cool graphics. You’re batting a thousand.  But then, so are dozens, nay hundreds of others in the blogosphere.

How can you get that qualitative edge that will generate the numbers, too (okay, okay-you’ll confess-numbers are important)? How do you grab more readers and keep them from going elsewhere?

The answer is in redefining your target audience. Most bloggers overlook a significant sector of their readership: those with reading difficulties.

knowing your audience

Whoa. That’s perplexing! Reading difficulties? How many potential readers have a reading difficulty? Are there so many that you need to take them into account?

Perhaps more to the point: what is it that you’re expected to do for them, exactly? If they can’t read, they can’t read. Maybe the blogosphere isn’t for those people who find it hard to read? Not that you mean to sound callous or anything.

The Stats

Okay. Let’s look at the statistics, as blurry as they may be. No one seems to be able to pinpoint the exact number of people who have dyslexia, but there are two figures that are cited over and over again. The first is the National Institute of Health (NIH) figure that says 2%-15% of the U.S. population has dyslexia.  The second is the worldwide figure for dyslexia, which is said to be one in every ten people.  Then there’s Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a leading expert in the field of dyslexia, who says that the U.S. figure for dyslexia is closer to 20% of the population.

reading difficulties

Twenty percent of the U.S. population is a heckuva lot of readers. But reading difficulties aren’t limited to those with dyslexia.  Dyslexia is just one type of reading difficulty. Slow or poor readers and those with visual impairments jack up the numbers even higher. What wouldn’t you give to grab another 20% or more of the reading public so you could hoist them over to your blog?

Sounds like just the ticket to edge out the numbers competition, doesn’t it?

Brass Tacks

So let’s get down to brass tacks. How can you get your content across to those who find it hard to read? Is there a steep learning curve

to wooing this sector of the population?

The good news is that most of what you need to know about writing for those with reading difficulties is stuff you’ve already assimilated. Good writing and design practices solve most of the problems that get in the way of making your blog legible to people who find it hard to read. If you’re a whiz at writing and you’ve got a handle on design issues, your blog is already reaching out to those with reading issues.

Take paragraphs, for instance. A good paragraph contains just one subject. And guess what? Shorter paragraphs are easier to read.

Dyslexic readers have trouble keeping the place in a very long paragraph. Short chunks of text, on the other hand, make your blog a pleasure for them to read.

Dubious Custom

dyslexic readersNext we have the issue of double-spacing after periods; a dubious custom which so many of us were taught by our teachers in school. The practice dates back to the time typewriters dictated the use of mono-spaced fonts. Double-spacing after periods made it easier to identify the ends of typewritten sentences.

But modern fonts are a vast improvement over those old-fashioned mono-spaced fonts. There’s no longer any need for double-spacing after periods. Double-spacing creates vertical rivers of white space within the text for those with dyslexia. That makes it hard for the dyslexic reader to identify where sentences start and end. One space after a period is just enough space to help the dyslexic reader find the beginnings and ends of sentences.

Now to the stuff you wouldn’t have known about making your blog accessible to those who find it difficult to read. Most of us expect to see black text on a white background. But pure black against pure white generates too great a contrast for those with reading problems. The high contrast creates a blur effect for some readers with dyslexia in which the letters seem to whirl into each other. By adding a smidgen of gray to text and background colors, you’ll reduce the glare and eliminate much of the blur effect.

Decorative Hooks

Another way to pamper readers with reading issues is to stick to sans serif fonts. Serifs are little decorative hooks that are added to the ends of letter strokes. They may make text attractive, but for those with dyslexia, the hooks can make letters difficult to identify. Sans serif just means that the font lacks these problematic little hooks. The WINDOWS font that is easiest to read seems to be Trebuchet MS.

The blogger who aims to attract those with reading difficulties to his website should also be forewarned that italics are a no-no. The letters slant to one side and have jagged edges. These unusual letter traits make letters indistinct and all but illegible for those who find it hard to read. Emphasize text by bolding it, instead.

A blogger generally gets just one chance at drawing new readers. If the person with dyslexia finds it a challenge to read your content, he’s going to pass your blog by, even if you’re the next Hemingway. But if you sidestep these common design mistakes, you’ll not only widen your audience, you’ll make your blog a joy to read.