Learnware™ Blog Posts

Why Poorly Written Content Makes It Harder For Your Brain to Learn

information overload information processing learning how to learn
person with head on desk and books piled on top of head

When breaking up with someone you may hear the other person say, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’  That statement is supposed to make the dumped person feel better,

When creators and authors expect you to read, understand and learn from their poorly written and constructed content they should be saying ‘It’s not you, it’s me’.   

When content is confusing it makes you, the learner, feel overwhelmed and stupid.  But you are not stupid!  It’s NOT your fault!

The content creators and authors have written content that is difficult for your brain to mentally process.  It is their fault because they either haven’t put in the time and effort to make the content easier to read and learn, or they don’t know how to do it.

So, what can you, as a learner, do when encountering poorly written and constructed content?

You have two options:

  • demand better and more clearly constructed content that is super brain friendly, or
  • manage your own cognitive confusion by following a variety of content clarity tactics!

Let’s assume that you can’t demand better written and constructed content. The content creator / author is not going to re-write the book, online program, resources, and materials any time soon.  They have moved on to write other confusing content.  You also need to read and comprehend the existing content now! 


What should you do?

Here are four ways you can recognize what’s causing your Brain BOG as well as actions you can take to increase content clarity so you can experience Brain BRIGHT.


Bad Content Indicator 1 – Missing or Misleading Headings (Titles) or Sub-Headings

Sometimes the headings or sub-headings are not included or the ones that are included are not very descriptive of what the content is all about.


As you read the content take time to change the existing headings (on your computer or by writing in new headings) to add more clarity.  Or, you can add headings and sub-headings if they are missing.

Really focus in on the main purpose of each section.  Would an action verb help describe it better?  What outcome will you achieve?  For example, ‘How to (verb)…’ or ‘Gain insight about…’.

Or, is it about facts, the 3 factors of ‘X’.  Or is it ‘X’ Types of ‘X’.   Figure out what title or sub-titles will make the content more memorable and re-callable.

It’s like priming your brain for learning.  If you start off confused, you may continue being confused longer than needed.


Bad Content Indicator 2 – Big Blocks of Text…Words, Words and More Words

If you see big blocks of text (with few paragraph breaks) then you know your brain is going to struggle for no good reason. 

More than four or five lines of text before you see a new paragraph break will cause you brain pain.  If you see half of page or more of block text, you are allowed to mumble to yourself about how inconsiderate the writer / author is.


If you can physically break up the text into shorter paragraphs then do that on your computer.  Or, at least add (or draw) an arrow > to indicate the first line of each paragraph. Another option is to use ellipses [   ] around each paragraph to show where there should be a paragraph break.   

Then, mentally ‘process’ the information by assuming that the paragraph breaks exist.  


Bad Content Indicator 3 – Bulleted or Numbered List Overload

Another solution to use, when there are too many words, is to add bullets and numbering.  However, too many bullets and too much numbering won’t help either.  The sheer volume of bullets and numbers will overwhelm your brain.

If there a bulleted list of items or a numbered list that contains more than six items, then that list needs to be broken up into shorter lists. 

I’ve often seen lists of 30 or more items.  Yikes!  Your brain can’t even begin to gain meaning and then remember, let alone recall, those items.


Break any long list of bulleted or numbered items (more than six items) into groups or clusters.  When Items in lists are categorized or grouped then the meaning behind the list is obvious and understandable.  Group related concepts or ideas so that they become a data set, a collection of data.

Then name each group or cluster.  Naming each group or cluster also helps to demystify what each list is all about.


Bad Content Indicator 4 – No Pictures in Sight

As you preview the books, manuals, and other materials and resources you need to learn, stop and assess how visual the content is.  Are there pictures, graphics, diagrams, and charts to support the meaning of the words and/or represent the words? 

Recognize that your brain’s capacity (i.e., ability to handle large volumes of information) will be challenged when faced with mentally processing a lot of words without visuals.


Add visuals that represent the key ideas.  The human brain can remember information more effectively when it’s in a visual format.

For example, viewing a picture, graphic, diagram or chart that illustrates the idea or concept will help you understand the topic better than just a written or auditory explanation.



Always be on the look-out for indicators of poorly constructed content so you can take action to overcome them.  Just because the content is poorly constructed doesn’t mean your brain needs to struggle.  You can make the content brain-friendly.  You are in control of your own learning process! 



Valerie Dixon, M.Ed., CTDP, President of Learnware Design Inc., (www.learnware.com) is a leading learning efficiency and effectiveness strategist and thought leader in the field of workplace learning and performance.  Valerie has over 40 years of experience in all aspects of performance needs analysis, learning organization strategy development and learning design.  She is the creator and designer of programs and products that accelerate job competence™.



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