Measure and manage readability
So your copy is too tough for even the most literate among us to read?
That’s what I asked you to do for our October writing contest: Find a hard-to-read passage, then rewrite it to measurably increase readability. Two of you took me up on the challenge.
Now it’s nearly twice as easy to read.
Kate Buback, team leader of marketing communications at Edward Jones, improved readability by nearly nine grade levels in this passage:
Flesch-Kincaid grade level
|Bonds of all maturities have historically exhibited lower volatility than, and low correlations with, equities, and in appropriate weights can serve as a balancing mechanism for investors seeking diversification in portfolios with equity exposure. However, keep in mind that fixed-income asset classes experience volatility as well and, as with any investment, you should understand the associated risks, including loss of principal.||19.3||Historically, bonds have experienced lower volatility, and their performance hasn’t been closely tied to the performance of stocks. In appropriate amounts, bonds can help balance portfolios that include stocks. However, it’s important to remember that bonds aren’t immune from volatility. As with any investment, you should understand all the risks, including the potential for loss of principal.||10.4|
Congratulations, Kate. Well done — and thanks for playing!
And the winner is …
Freelance writer Sue Horner started with a passage that rang in at minus 29.5 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale and 43.5 on the Flesch reading grade level.
“What can I say?” she writes. “It’s government.”
In rewrite, she brought the grade level down to 9.6, nearly a 34-grade improvement:
Flesch-Kincaid grade level
|From July 1, 2010, until June 30, 2018, with the introduction of the HST in Ontario and British Columbia, large businesses – generally those making taxable supplies worth more than $10 million annually, and certain specified financial institutions – will be required to repay or “recapture” the portion of any available input tax credits (ITCs) that is attributable to the provincial part of the HST that becomes payable, or is paid without having become payable, in respect of a specified property or service that is acquired, or brought into one of these provinces, by a large business for consumption or use by that business in those provinces.||43.5||Large businesses will see changes between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2018, due to a new tax in Ontario and British Columbia. This affects certain banking institutions and businesses making taxable goods worth more than $10 million a year. These businesses must repay a portion of tax credits related to the provincial part of the HST owed on a specific property/service. This product /service is one brought into either province to be used or consumed by that business.||9.6|
Great job, Sue! Watch your mailbox for a little readability-related gift from me.
Improve your own copy’s readability.
How can you make your copy measurably easier to read, especially in light of heart-wrenching U.S. literacy rates?
- List lists
- Break up sentences
- Make words shorter
- Write directly to the reader in the second person
- Cover people doing things instead of programs and procedures