Save money, make money and more with readable messages
What are the benefits of making your message measurably easier to read and understand?
Readability formulas measure how easy your message is to read based on average number of words per sentence, percentage of polysyllabic words and familiarity of words on the Dale Chall list.
1. Increase reading.
Readable writing gets read, writes plain-language advocate William H. DuBay:
- Articles written at the 6th-grade level get 18% to 60% more readership than those written at the 9th-grade level, found Donald Murphy, editor of Wallaces Farmer, in a split-run test.
- Wire service stories with Flesch scores of 8th grade and below got 67% more readers than those with Flesch scores of 9th grade and above, found Bernard Feld in a readership survey.
- Local stories with Flesch scores of 8th grade and below got 75% more readers than those with Flesch scores of 9th grade and above, Feld found in that same test.
Why do the hard work it takes to increase readability? Because making your copy easier to read can convince people to read more of your message, understand it faster and remember it longer.
2. Get read more fully.
Researcher Charles E. Swanson found that:
- People read 93% more of the easy version of a story (1.3 syllables per word) than of the hard (1.7 syllables per word) version.
- Some 82% more people read the entire easy piece than read the whole hard piece.
Want to increase page view time and get more of your message across? Readability is the answer.
3. Get understood better.
When copy is easier to read, it’s also easier to understand, found researchers Curtis D. Hardyck and Lewis F. Petrinovich.
Want people to understand your message? Make it easier to read.
4. Boost reading speed, retention.
The more readable version of a training manual (7th-grade level) increased reading speed, retention and appeal over the 12th- and 16th-grade versions, found George Klare, a leading readability researcher in a study for the Air Force.
Two years later, Klare found that easy (7th- to 8th-grade) messages significantly increased reading speed and retention over hard (13th- to 15th-grade) copy in a study of 120 aviators.
Want people to read your message faster and remember it longer and enjoy it more? Boost readability.
5. Get shared more often.
The lower the reading grade level of the article headline, the more likely it is to get shared on Facebook, Zarrella’s research shows. Headlines written at the:
- 5th-grade level got shared 15% more often than average.
- 9th-grade level got shared 10% more often than average.
- 15th-grade level got shared nearly 20% less often than average.
Want your posts to travel the world instead of staying home on the couch? Make it more readable.
6. Save money, make money.
Bad writing causes 40% of the cost of managing business transactions, estimates DuBay. He cites:
- Newsletters that reach only a fraction of the targeted audience
- Press releases that never make the news
- Websites that fail to inform and motivate readers to act
“Try to imagine the costs of poor writing … in business, government, and law,” writes Joseph Kimble, chair of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Research & Writing Department. “The costs are almost beyond imagining, and certainly beyond calculating.”
Kimble goes beyond trying to imagine those costs. This lawyer/clear-writing advocate shares case studies of organizations that have saved time and money and otherwise improved business practices by making their copy easier to read.
- Save money. FedEx saved $400,000 per year by rewriting operations manuals to make it 80% less time-consuming for users to find the information they were looking for. That doesn’t count the costs of mistakes when users couldn’t find the right answers.
- Move people to act. When the U.S. Army rewrote a memo to 129 officers, suggesting that they perform a specific task, those who got the more readable memo were twice as likely to act on the day they received it.
- Increase productivity. The U.S. Navy learned that it could save $27 million to $37 million a year in officer time by rewriting its business memos. Officers were able to read the revised memos in 17% to 27% less time.
Readable copy, Kimble writes:
- Streamlines procedures and paperwork, makes it easier to train staff, and increases staff productivity and morale.
- Reduces confusion, complaints and claims, and it improves customer satisfaction.
- Increases sales and raises the company’s standing in the marketplace.
Want to increase the ROI of your channels and boost your organization’s bottom line? Improve your readability.
How readable is your message?
To get your readability score, run your copy through a readability test like the:
- Automated Readability Index
- Coleman Liau Index
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test
- Flesch Reading Ease Formula (aka the Flesch Reading Ease Test)
- Gunning Fog Index
Is your piece too difficult to read? Reduce sentence length. Translate unfamiliar words and long words.
Sources: William H. DuBay, Smart Language: Readers, Readability, and the Grading of Text, Impact Information, Jan. 25, 2007
William H. DuBay, Your Stake in Plain Language (PDF), Impact Information (Costa Mesa, California), 2004
Dan Zarrella, The Facebook Marketing Book, O’Reilly Media, 2010