How does your news stand up?
How does your message stand up against The Huffington Post?
After all, The Huffington Post is the third most popular online news site, after only Yahoo! News and Google News. They must be doing something right!
So what readability techniques can you steal from the Huff Post?
Is your message difficult to read?
To find out, we analyzed a full day’s content in the Huff Post — some 85 articles in all, not including the sports section. Here’s what we found:
- Story length. The Huffington Post’s articles weigh in at an average of 752 words. How long is your average blog post, news release or intranet article?
- Paragraph length. The Huffington Post’s paragraphs average a slender 34 words. Long paragraphs reduce reading. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read.
- Sentence length. The Huffington Post’s average sentence length is 20 words. Short sentences promote comprehension. What’s the average number of words per sentence in your message?
- Word length. The Huffington Post averages a little over 6 characters per word. Plain English reduces reading effort and increases reading. How many syllables per word do you average in your messages?
- Flesch Reading Ease score. The Huffington Post averages about 50 on The Flesch Reading Ease test. This readability formula measures how easy to read a piece of text is. The higher, the better, on this scale of 0 to 100.
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. The Huffington Post averages 11.4 on The Flesch-Kincaid grade level score. It measures the reading level required to process your information. The lower the number, the better.
- Passive voice. The Huffington Post averages 0% passive voice. That’s a good target for your message, too.
Whether you use Yoast SEO or Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics or an online readability analyzer, benchmarking your message against successful news sites can help you write what people will read.
Your reviewer tells you that you can’t start a story with an anecdote? Pull out a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal and show her you can.
One way to gain power in the approval process is to show the reviewer your technique in her paper.
You can also use that approach to develop editorial guidelines. Here’s how:
1. Identify news sites to benchmark. Choose editorial award winners and others acknowledged to be at the top of the craft. Do include the Journal — it’s the business publication of record in the United States, after all, and a textbook example of how to write stellar business copy.
And if the CEO is always referring to a certain trade magazine, make sure that’s in the mix.
For our clients, we’ve benchmarked competitors’ messages, defense trades, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
2. Conduct detailed editorial audits. Now explore how these sites convey information. Dig deep. Quantify and specify. Ask:
- What types of stories do they run? News, features, explainers? Narratives, case studies, how-to service pieces? Note to self: There’s a world of opportunity beyond product releases.
- How do they relate to readers? Do they write directly to “you” or speak of their reader in the third person? Do product stories focus on cool, new gear or how readers can use the gear to improve their lives?
- How do they organize their stories? Features or pyramids? Just-the-facts-ma’am fact packs or anecdotal leads? Dry, boring quotes or lively, crisp sound bites? Identify the story elements and structure.
- How readable are they? Check story length, paragraph length, sentence length, word length, passive voice and all of the other readability measures you can quantify.
- What creative elements do they use? Note preferences for storytelling, analogy, concrete details and more.
- How do they use display copy? What kinds of headlines do they use? How long are they? Is there always a deck, or a one-sentence summary under the headline?
- What other issues of style and tone stand out? Is the writing brisk and lively or slow and thoughtful? Abstract or concrete? What else do you notice about the way editors present information?
3. Develop editorial standards based on your audit. Now use what you’ve learned to set guidelines for your own organization’s copy. If editors at most of these respected sites aim for 9th-grade reading level, you should too. If their headlines average eight words, so should yours.
Want help? I’d be delighted to help you with your benchmarking project!
Share standards with reviewers.
Now you have solid facts you can use to convince reviewers that their revisions aren’t up to professional writing standards. Hey, these aren’t your standards, after all; they’re The Huffington Post’s.