When you’re writing content, keeping your audience in mind is important. That applies to everything, including the language you choose, your jargon and even your sentence and word length.
You really have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience – which isn’t actually as easy as it seems.
Microsoft Word actually offers a tool that helps with this. This is the Flesch Kincaid Readability tool.
Have you ever seen it?
When you look at the spell checker option for Word, you might have noticed this:
Most of us don’t pay any attention to the statistics, but they can be very useful.
If you run the spell checker with this option chosen, you end up with this:
What we’re interested in is the last two pieces of information. These ones here:
Together they’re called the Flesch Kincaid Readability Tool and they both give an indication of how readable your document is.
So, let’s look at the two measures then we’ll talk about what this means for content creation.
Flesh Reading Ease
In general, the Flesh Reading Ease test looks at how easy it is to read the content.
The exact formula it uses is:
This means that the longer your words are, and the more words you have in a sentence, the lower the final value is.
The way that formula is written places greater emphasis on word length. So, if you were trying to increase the final score, you would pick words with fewer syllables.
The final value is interpreted as follows:
- 90.0 – 100.0: A 11-year-old student can understand easily
- 60.0 – 70.0: 13 to 15-year-old students can easily understand
- 0.0 – 30.0: Level of university graduates
As a general rule, you should be aiming for around a score of 70 or higher. But this doesn’t apply to all content or all contexts. I’ll go into that more in a little bit.
Flesh Kincaid Grade Level
The second test is grade level. This one is very common in education and gives answers in terms of grade level. The formula is:
Again, it’s a bit complicated.
The big thing is that this formula is more focused on sentence length.
This test is useful because most people in the United States have some understanding of what skill level is associated with a particular grade. So, if I was to say a post was written for an 8th-grade audience, many of you would know what I mean.
However, it’s a lot less useful for people outside of the United States, who have to convert from the grade system to whatever they use.
Flesch Kincaid Readability Tool and Internet Marketing
These tests are based on psychological studies and on the way the human mind works.
When you are faced with a long sentence or a complex one, you have suspend understanding what you are reading until your brain works out what all the words mean together.
This means that long sentences are inherently harder to understand.
Online this is very significant.
You don’t really know how much education your readers have or how hard they will find your text.
You are teaching them, so you can’t just assume that they will understand what you are writing because you do. That’s why these tests are so valuable.
As an internet marketer, you are both a teacher and a salesman. So, you need people to understand you.
What to Aim For
In terms of readability, people often recommend aiming for a score of 70 (or higher).
When people read online, then tend to scan content more. This means that shorter sentences and words are even more important. Because of this, a score of 80 is often better.
However… this depends on your audience and your content.
For example, these were the stats from a pretty normal article on this site:
In contrast, a particularly technical article got this score:
I’m happy with both of those. The scores for the second article weren’t as good, because the topic was so much more complex. I couldn’t have improved that without dummying down the topic.
For comparison, the following stats came from a paper a friend wrote:
The paper in question was an academic one, designed for a highly educated audience. So, those numbers are actually about right. But, if I was getting those numbers for one of my articles here, I would be worried.
In general, most websites will be targeting an audience that might not have finished school and probably doesn’t have a college education.
In this case, reading ease scores of 70-80 are probably a good thing. However, technical articles on those websites may well score lower.
On the flipside, some websites intentionally target a more educated audience.
For example, websites that reference scientific papers or talk about scientific theory tend to target an audience with higher education.
So, you have to take your content and your site into account when you are considering what values to aim for.
In general, optimizing for grade level and reading ease involves shorter sentences and fewer syllables in words. This means trying to weed out long and complicated sentences. It also means looking for ways of saying things more simply.
There are so many complicated words in the English language and most of them have easy alternatives.
Word can help you out with this one too. If you right click the word you are concerned with and choose synonym, you will get a list of alternatives, like this:
However, do be careful with this too.
People have a habit of picking words that don’t really mean the same thing. In particular, some synonyms are relevant in some contexts, but not others.
That list was synonyms for complicated. Now, I might say:
It is a complicated problem
It is a complex problem
It is a convoluted problem
But I probably wouldn’t say:
It is a byzantine problem
It is a dense problem
It is a problematical problem
So, use the synonym option if you are having problems figuring out a shorter word, but use it carefully.
Despite some claims, you can’t always shorten a word. Sometimes you have to have a complex word in there.
For example, in this article, I’m talking about the Flesch Kincaid Readability Tool. The readability information for the previous sentence is this:
That’s pretty bad. The problem is with the phrase 'Flesch Kincaid Readbility Tool' itself, which is pretty complex. However, it’s also the name of what I am talking about – so I can’t simply change it. Overall, that will mean that this entire article won’t score as well as I would like.
However, that’s what happens.
If you are writing something complex or technical, then your scores will reflect that.
When you are looking at your writing, you can figure out what specific parts of text are giving you problems. You do this just by highlighting the text and doing the same spell check process.
However, if you’re going to do that, make sure you say no to this dialog box:
Otherwise you will just end up getting the statistics for the entire document anyway.
Checking without Word
If you don’t have Word, there are other ways to check your readability. One way is the website Readability Score.
While it might be a pain to paste your text into a different program, I prefer that to having to go through the spell check process each time. The site also gives a few different indications of grades from different tests. This can be useful.
Both the grade level and the reading ease aspects of the Flesch Kincaid Readability Tool are important. They can help to guide you in writing your content.
After all, if your content isn’t suitable for your audience, it isn’t going to be very successful.
Figuring out the basics of your audience is something that you learn more about when you are initially choosing your niche. That’s something I’ve talked about a little on this site, although the training site I recommend goes into niche selection in much greater detail.