by Bob Kelly (used by permission)
Do you know how readable your writing is? You should. In fact, with all the tools available to you these days, there’s no excuse not to know. I assure you that your target audiences know – instinctively. Once they start reading what you’ve written, they’ll keep going – or quit – depending on how easy or hard it is you’ve made it for them.
The good news is that you, as the writer, don’t have to depend on instinct. Take anything you’ve written and you can quickly determine how readable it is by calculating the average grade level needed to understand it.
I produce a quarterly newsletter for a client, who requires that each of the dozen or so articles I write and/or edit per issue have an average grade level of 12 (high school graduate) or less.
Used to Be a Tedious Task
Calculating readability used to be a tedious task. One way was to take a sample of 100-200 words, count the number of words, then the number of sentences, then the percentage of words with three or more syllables. Take the average sentence length plus the average of the longer words, add them together and multiply the sum by a factor of 0.4. The result: the average grade level needed for comprehension.
I did that for years. But now, as we used to say in Noo Yawk, fuhgedaboudit! I simply highlight the writing sample, go to www.readability-score.com and paste in the sample and instantly see the average grade level, also known as the Fog Index.
Readability Doesn’t Equal Comprehension
A word of caution: finding that level is just the first step. Comprehension and readability are not the same thing. According to The Wall Street Journal, “People prefer to read well below their education level, and at a fog index of 13-college freshman-even a PhD’s eyes may start to glaze a bit. At 17 virtually the whole audience has fled.”
Most business magazines are written at the 9-10 level. I once read that TV Guide is at 6, and Reader’s Digest at 8. So, unless you’re writing a doctoral thesis or a legal brief, I strongly recommend you aim for a level of 10, or below. Once you start doing it, you’ll find it comes naturally. (I just checked; this article is at 7.)
If your writing is higher than 10, and you’re struggling with how to lower it, send along a sample and let’s see if I can help – with no strings attached.
Bob Kelly founded WordCrafters, Inc. in 1979, providing complete writing and editing services for authors, speakers, businesses and professional men and women, ministries and other nonprofit organizations. A former newspaper editor and publisher, he’s an award-winning author/co-author of 20 books, and has edited or ghostwritten more than a dozen others. His unique and extensive collection of quotations numbers 480 volumes and 1.7 million quotes. He’s also the author and publisher of a popular free monthly ezine: The KellyGram: Wisdom and Wit about the Wonderful and Often Wacky World of Words. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.