Short words, short sentences, happy readers
We at the Content Bureau pride ourselves on taking the tough writing jobs off your hands. But as delighted as we are to help you with marcom projects, we can’t be everywhere. In the course of your daily duties—and even in your personal life, if you’re one of the lucky few who still has time for one—you’ll sometimes need to sit down and crank out your own prose.
Perhaps you’re not always thrilled with how that prose gets your points across. If that’s the case, let’s talk about your readability, a simple concept based on two principles:
- Shorter words are easier to read.
- Shorter sentences are easier to process.
So, when we’re aiming for highly readable text, we should use words with fewer syllables and write sentences that don’t ramble.
Let’s see what this looks like in practice. Suppose you’re sending an email out to your marketing department to let them know your latest product version is ready for launch. Here’s how to make your colleagues hate you:
This communication is intended to officially notify the entirety of our international marketing organization and all the personnel within that, as previously forecasted in prior communications, XYZ Enterprises is proud to have succeeded in meeting its Q2 target date for the release of the latest generation of its flagship product, XYZSoft. This innovative product assists marketing professionals in all disciplines to efficiently and effectively utilize their decades upon decades of acquired intelligence to optimize the financial results of their organization or company.
Hello. Hello? Wake up! It’s me, Keven. You were reading a blog—remember?
Now, let’s re-write the passage, keeping in mind that humans will be reading it:
Attention XYZ Enterprises Worldwide Marketing: XYZSoft 2.0 has released on target! The latest version of our flagship product will help all marketers use their knowledge and experience to improve the bottom line.
Still not perfect, but much better, eh?
Luckily, there’s an easy way to keep an eye on your readability: just turn on the readability statistics in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook. In Word, click the Microsoft Office Button, click Word Options, click Proofing, select Check grammar with spelling, and select Show readability statistics.
In Outlook, click the Tools menu, click Options, click the Spelling tab, click Spelling and AutoCorrection, click Proofing, select Check grammar with spelling, and select Show readability statistics.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll see readability stats every time you check spelling and grammar in Word or Outlook. The numbers to watch are the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. For Reading Ease, higher is better and 99 is the highest. Depending on how technical your document is, a score in the 50s or 60s may be very good.
On Grade Level, lower is better. Why? Because the score represents the number of years of formal education your audience would have to have completed to understand what you wrote. Even if you’re sure your readers have all finished high school, shoot for lower than 12. Nobody likes to work hard when they read.
Let’s see how our examples stack up.
Stats for the above word-bloated monstrosity:
Flesch Reading Ease: 0.0
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 25.2
Stats for the stripped-down version:
Flesch Reading Ease: 42.5
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 11.3
That’s more like it.
I’ll admit that these examples are a bit extreme—but the point stands: keep an eye on your readability, and you’ll avoid putting your audience to sleep. (It’s just one of the ways the Content Bureau delivers crisp, clean copy.)
By the way, are you wondering about my stats for this article?
Flesch Reading Ease: 60.9
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.9
And that includes the passage of horrible text.
And. I. Didn’t. Even. Cheat. That. Much.