Lower the Reading Level to be Effective
We know that we need to be clear and concise in business. Yet there’s one very common mistake that managers, marketers, students, and most everyone makes in their reports, emails, and websites.
When you write about a topic that you know well, the reading level tends to increase. For example, a reading level score of 12 means a high school graduate can understand the document. A score of 14 means you need two years of college or university to understand the text.
We tend to use more jargon, bigger words, and more complex sentences when we are experts in a subject. Often we don’t even realize that we are doing it.
Why is this an issue?
After all, your peers, colleagues, and managers are smart people.
Just because someone has a master’s degree doesn’t mean they want to read at that level all the time. It’s exhausting. When you are selling a product to a client or an idea your boss, you want to make it as easy as possible to understand. Offering complex ideas in a simple was is an important skills.
The tool I use is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. It is conveniently located in the spell check function of Microsoft Word. The reading level appears on the screen that appears after the spell check is complete. Most newspapers aim for a grade nine reading level. That’s the minimum for a functionally literate adult, what someone needs to be able to live and work independently.
When you are writing, aim for a grade nine reading level for university graduates. Aim lower for high school graduates if you can. If you are explaining something difficult, the lower the reading level the better.
How do I lower the reading level?
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool considers the average sentence length, and number of syllables in words. Go back to your writing, and break sentences into shorter, simpler thoughts. Use smaller words.
I have been given manuals for high school graduates that are grade 18+ and reviewed websites for family services that requires college or university to understand.
This week run your next memo, report, or even a paragraph of it through the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tool. It only takes a minute. Let me know what you learned about your writing.
Catherine Doucette MEd, CTDP delivers customized business communications and leadership programs with measurable results. Topics include management issues, communication styles, difficult conversations, presentation skills, mentoring, productivity, managing conflict, business writing, and more.