Today I’m letting you in on a little of the backend stuff that happens here at Dear Sabrina. I run this blog on WordPress, and I’ve installed a standard set of plug-ins (think of them as apps) to help me run different aspects of the backend. One of those, perhaps the most popular, is called Yoast SEO.
The point of Yoast SEO is to help websites rank better on search engines like Google. The plug-in guides you in how to write and title each post so that it’s more likely to rank well on a Google search, thereby bringing more visitors to the website. Part of the plug-in focuses on SEO, and another part focuses on readability, which is exactly what it sounds like: how easy (or hard) it is to read the text.
When it comes to readability, dear readers, I fail.
I uniformly get really bad readability ratings. The ratings are based on factors like length of sentences and paragraphs, number of syllables per word, use of passive voice and transition words, etc. My sentences are always too long, I frequently use multisyllabic words, and I’m too free with the passive voice. My Flesch Reading Ease score is almost always “fairly difficult to read” or “okay to read,” and rarely “easy to read” or “fairly easy to read.”
I’d been thinking about writing this post, and then I received a popular email newsletter last week in which the author argued for writing simplified posts. The newsletter looked at the top 20 articles on LinkedIn at the moment, and found that most of them were considered very easy to read by the Flesch test. The argument was that to become (and remain) popular, writers need to write at a fairly basic level.
There’s certainly truth in that, but you know what? I’m not going to do it. Truth is, I can only write in my voice, and my voice uses meandering sentences, uncommon punctuation (I love semi-colons), and the more-than-occasional big word. Further, my philosophical stance is that when we are exposed to complex sentence structure and big words, our minds are forced to adapt—and that’s good.
Think about having a conversation with one of your closest friends, the friend that really makes you think, the friend who you feel like your best, most articulate self around. Do you think that person dumbs down his/her level of conversation for you? No! I always feel ten times smarter when I’m talking with my dear friend Joshua, and that’s because he raises my level of conversation just by being himself. He is smart and witty and articulate, and that makes me smart and witty and articulate, at least for those few moments I’m around him.
Now, while I won’t claim to be smart, witty, and articulate in this space, I will own up to the relative complexity of the stuff I write here, at least compared to what I “should” be writing. Further, I’ll posit that that’s one of the reasons that you keep coming back: because you’ve found a corner of the Internet where you feel at home, where you like the topics being discussed and the voice discussing them, that you like reading something that hasn’t been dumbed down for mass appeal.
So, this—my authentic voice—might drive some people away because it’s a bit hard to read, but I’m sticking with it. Because I believe in my own voice, and I believe in you, dear readers.
(As a side note, one of my favorite writers is Alain de Botton. It’s not just me: his books have been bestsellers in 30 countries. Have you ever read anything of his? He writes the most beautiful, complex sentences. Sometimes I have to read them multiple times just to be sure I’m getting everything; sometimes I read them multiple times just to delight in the beauty of a well-written sentence.)
Photo of Alain de Botton from his website. Screenshots from mine.