AS A PERSUASIVE WRITER, you cannot persuade a reader without first having your words read. That means, along with rhetoric, style, and voice, you must consider — and remember — readability.
What Is Readability?
In conceptual terms, “readability” refers to a piece of writing’s ability to be read. The more complex the language, complicated the sentences, intricate the paragraphs, the less “readable” a piece of writing becomes.
In more scientific terms, readability is the measured outcome based on a formula comprised of multiple variables in writing.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula
Dozens (if not hundreds) of viable readability formulas have been introduced over the years. Some of the most popular focus on easily identifiable variables (such as the number of non-common vocabulary words, number of syllables, average word and sentence length, etc.). Some of the less popular formulas use harder-to-identify variables (such as reader eye blinks or movements).
Today, probably the most popular readability formula is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level index. It’s a fairly simplistic formula, and it is built into Microsoft Word — easily the more widely used Word processor in the world.
The Flesch-Kincaid formula analyzes the complexity of writing based on its average number of words per sentence — average sentence length (ASL) — and the average number of syllables per word (ASW). Using a formula that converts scores into “grade level” values, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level model assigns a representative level of sophistication required for the writing.
MS Word & Flesch-Kincaid
As mentioned, Microsoft Word comes equipped with a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level index calculator. By enabling the tool in the Options (Preferences on a Mac) option under the File (Word on a Mac) tab, users can make the grade level assessment part of the spelling and grammar check.
Strategies for Persuasive Writers
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula is not the definitive, end-all, be-all in measuring readability, but it is a useful tool for persuasive writers.
For example, copywriters can use the tool to help ensure their message suits a target market. For example, are you a TV commercial copywriter presenting children’s toys? If so, you will want to craft a very readable message, one that will be understood by children. Are you high-tech manufacturer of computer components? Then, in that case, you will want to step your readability up for your engineering audience.
The Microsoft Word readability statistics can also help writers craft messages for certain media types. Copy on a billboard, for example, better be short and sweet — after all, drivers and passengers will be whizzing by at great speeds. Web content should also be at a somewhat lower level since the backlighting of screens will tire readers’ eyes.
Whatever your strategy as a persuasive writer, the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula is a simple, quick way to gauge the complexity of your writing.
NOTE: For the record, this blogpost was given a grade level assessment of 12.0 — sophisticated writing for a sophisticated readership.