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Accessibility: Useful Content - Part V: Understanding the Readability Problem

Perhaps it was fate that I’d stumble on an example that talks about the law. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t understand legal jargon, nor do most people. While referencing legal documentation is great, actually repeating it on your own website can increase confusion.

Consider your audience before you write something. In the case of our example, if you are talking to lawyers or law majors, then the jargon may be appropriate. If your audience is larger, you may need to choose your words more carefully.

Readability is about making the text understandable. This involves:

  • sentence structure
  • vocabulary

I’m not going to claim to be a great writer or understand the concepts in these example sentences completely, but I want to show you the difference in readability:

From: If an individual reports an offense of hazing to the Dean of Students, the individual is immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of the report. However, a person reporting in bad faith or with malice is not so protected.

To: If you give an honest report of a hazing crime to the Dean of Students, you will be protected for telling the truth. If you lie in your report, you will be in trouble.

From: Specific penalties that may be imposed against an individual or organization guilty of an offense under the hazing law include the imposition of fines ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or confinement in the county jail for a period of time ranging from 90 days to two years.

To: If you or your group commit a hazing crime, you could pay a fine ranging from $5,000-$10,000 and/or go to jail for a time ranging from 90 days to 2 years.