The second article in our series on readability centers on the context in which readers encounter your writing. A writer or instructional designer’s approach depends on whether an audience reads the text in an eLearning module, an online health dictionary, or in legal documentation.

Let’s examine more closely why readability matters in each of those contexts.

Be Readable in Training

There are many considerations for readability in the context of instructional design.

In eLearning, content is often scaled up or down based on the user’s device, meaning that the course appears differently on a smartphone than it does on a tablet or desktop computer. Course text must have a high enough contrast to be read easily as well as being accessible for people with color-blindness—and these are just the elements of physical readability.

Conceptual readability in instructional design should consider the audience’s existing knowledge and skills. An advanced class on software engineering, for example, may assume some things about its audience’s vocabulary that a beginner or intermediate course may not.

Be Readable in Health Care

Consider a large, public repository that contains various articles on what to do about common colds, joint pain, or blisters. These repositories must be accessible to eighth graders and qualified nurses alike. Either might access and use the information, so both must be able to understand it.

Be Readable in Government

Government documents are famous for their lack of readability and are often printed in tiny font and littered with obscure jargon. Despite this precedent, the government has an obligation to communicate effectively with its citizens, and, ironically, some of those difficult-to-read laws govern the readability of text.

Take PLAIN, for example, which stands for the Plain Language Action and Information Network (1). This network promotes clear writing in government communication. There’s also the matter of Section 508 compliance, which was signed into law in the early days of the internet to make the web a more welcome place for users with disabilities (2).

Be Readable to Your Audience

The context of your text is a critical readability concern, as the above examples demonstrate.

If, at any point in the writing process, there is no consideration given to who the reader is and what they need, then both the conceptual and physical readability of the final product are likely to suffer. Ignoring the context of writing has the potential to render even the best—or most important—writing unintelligible.

The third article in this series will deal with the assumptions—both good and bad—that writers are required to make to ensure readability.


  1. PLAIN:
  2. 508 compliance: