How does your news measure up?
How does your copy’s readability compare to that of the world’s largest broadcast organization?
One way to find out is to benchmark readability statistics. That’s a great way to convince bosses, clients and reviewers that extremely readable copy makes sense, even for serious messages.
We used Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics to measure how the BBC’s readability stacks up. We analyzed every story (23, including the top 10 most read) on the BBC.com home page on a single day.
Here’s what we found out … and how you can improve readability of your own pieces.
1. The BBC’s paragraphs weigh in at an average of just 24 words, or 1.4 sentences. See how easy this 21-word paragraph looks — and is — to process:
2. The BBC’s lead paragraphs average 25 words. Write first paragraphs that go down easy like this 21-word lead from the BBC:
3. The BBC’s sentences average 19 words — a little longer than our recommended average. Model the sentences from this piece, which averaged 13.7 words per sentence:
4. The BBC averages 4.7 characters per word. This passage, for instance, weighs in at about 4.8 characters per word:
5. Of the 23 BBC articles we reviewed, only one had any passive voice. That gives the BBC an average .4% (that’s four-tenths of 1%) passive voice total. This passage, for instance, is free from passive voice:
6. The BBC averages 52.4 on this readability scale of 0 to 100. This passage hits 64.5 on the Flesch scale:
7. The world news organization weighs in at 10.63. C’mon. You can do better. This passage, for instance, hits 6.4 on the Flesch-Kincaid scale:
Benchmarking your copy’s readability can help you:
- Convince approvers that — yes, even in your business — high readability is essential and achievable.
- Set, measure and report standards for readable writing within your writing group.
- Improve readability for your own copy.
What are you waiting for? Benchmark readability in business media, industry journals, your company communications — maybe even your competitors’.
Then, no matter how serious the material, aim for standards that will help you get the word out to the most people.
Just like the BBC does.