Fire your copywriter ... today!
Isn't it great news? At last, you can get rid of that massively overpaid word nerd. You've always known you're a great copywriter. From today, you can prove it once and for all. With uncharacteristically selfless generosity, I'm going revealing to you a wonderful little tool that's available to us all, but is usually tucked away where we can't find it.
Five minutes from now, you'll know how to test everything you write - every blog, every web page, every email, letter, press release, case study or white paper - the lot. You'll be able to check them for readability ... in just seconds.
Thank you, Rudolf and Peter
The guys to thank are two clever American psycholinguists - Rudolf Flesch and Peter Kincaid. Back in the 1970s, the American Navy commissioned them to come up with a way of testing technical manuals for readability.
The Flesch Kincaid test is the name of their handy little gadget that helps us to improve the way we write.
The funny thing is - the tool is available to every user of Microsoft Word but, unless we switch it on, we don't know it’s there.
So, where's it hiding?
That’s easy. In Word, go to
Right near the bottom, under When correcting grammar and spelling in word, you’ll see Show readability statistics.
Just make sure it’s ticked (Apologies, my dear friends Stateside - ‘checked’)
How do you use it?
That’s easy too.
Once you’ve finished creating your document, go to the Review tab. Run Editor (in older versions of Word, it's called Spellcheck).
When Editor has finished, up pops your Flesch Kincaid Readability results box.
It looks like this -
You're now looking at the Flesch Kincaid readability stats for this very article.
Let's pick our way through it.
The first four lines are pretty self-explanatory.
They show the number of words, characters, paragraphs and sentences you’ve used.
The next three lines, headed ‘Averages’, are again straightforward.
You'll want low numbers here. This will indicate you've used short words, short sentences and plenty of short paragraphs.
The system uses these numbers to work out your Readability scores.
It looks at your figures, takes into account how many ‘passive sentences’ you’ve used and then makes a judgement about how ’readable’ your piece of work is.
The first score, the Flesch Reading Ease, measures the overall readability of your text.
You need to be aiming for this to be as high as possible.
Anything below 50 is poor - you need to scrub it and start again.
A score between 50 and 65 is pretty good.
Above 65 - 70, you’re an outstanding wordsmith.
Above 70? I resign.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
I like this one.
This figure is the American School reading level at which readers will understand your text.
A fundamental rule of copywriting is to write in a way that a child can understand it. Well, here’s your chance to see how well you've managed.
Note the last line - the percentage of your sentences which are in the ’passive voice’. In business English, avoid these as much as you can.
Don’t use the passive voice -
Your order will be confirmed immediately.
Use the active -
We'll confirm your order immediately.
See how much more personal and engaging, the second one sounds? Still not sure? How about
the mat was sat on by the cat.
Or The cat sat on the mat.
Which do you prefer?
A quick grammar lesson - here's where I go all school teachery. ('No change there', my kids will be saying - except they stopped reading these articles years ago. Now you know why!).
The 'passive voice' is where you put the object (the mat) at the beginning of the sentence.
When you use the 'active voice', you put the subject (the cat) - the thing or person that did the 'doing' - at the start of the sentence. The object goes at the end.
So, there we have it. Switch on your Flesch Kincaid readability function. Use it every time you write your web copy, or any document- and, watch the difference. See how your writing improves.
I just hope this isn't the end of a long, deep and meaningful relationship. It's been good knowing you!
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