Who knew working on copy for your business would be such a pain in the backside, right?
No one who teaches about starting a business online ever warns you.
Then there’s also wondering if your readers will love or hate what you’ve written.
Because, when you’ve spent hours working on your copy, how can you be sure what you’ve made is something they’re going to actually understand?
In fact, can you be 100% sure they’re taking in what you’re saying?
When reading becomes a task
The other day I was browsing a new educational publisher’s website focused on motivational topics. The company it belonged hadn’t been going for very long (less than 18 months) and curiosity drove me to explore some more.
However, the whole “explore some more” thing didn’t go very well. I didn’t end up exploring much at all, once I found myself reading some of the copy.
Here’s an example (from their About page):
“There seems to be a fair amount of scorn or in the mainstream of the culture towards the term “dysfunctional”, but that scorn or derision is misplaced. It is not a stereotype, meaningless term. The definition of “dysfunctional” is, most simply, “the opposite of functional”, and of course, “dysfunctional” and “optimally functional” are always on a continuum within any context. Is there any scientific consensus for the range of “optimally functional” behavior for human beings?”
Quite a paragraph, right?
Not only did I not understand any of it, I didn’t know what idea it was trying to tell us.
Was the publisher expecting the reader to work out what it was saying, instead of helping them do that?
There was also the feeling I lacked intelligence somehow. That maybe if I was more intelligent I would’ve understood it. It was most likely I wasn’t the target audience for this business.
Seeing as the copy belonged to a NEW educational publisher, it made me wonder if they were aware of their copy being so off-putting.
More to the point, if their goal was to get their audience onboard with their ideas, could they 100% say, for sure, their copy was doing that?
Where you and your reader stand
Because, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
It’s not just about keeping your words simple. It’s also making sure anyone reading can understand it easily the first time they read it, even if they’re just passing by.
And if they are your target reader, it helps forge relationships in a subtle way, seeing as you’re helping them understand you.
But that said, how do you go about making sure your own copy is easy to read?
Well, luckily for us, thanks to J. Peter Kincaid and his work for the US Navy in 1975, he’s done all the hard work already.
Scrutinise your copy
Kincaid designed two readability tests, one focused on technical information, and the other on general reading ease.
And it’s his second test – the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test – it’s what we’re focusing on.
Using this test, your copy is tested on a number of variables (including sentence length and number of syllables per word) and then given an overall score at the end.
Each score corresponds to a specific reading level:
- 90.0 – 100.0 – easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
- 60.0 – 70.0 – easily understood by 13-15-year-old students
- 0.0-30.0 – best understood by university graduates
If your score falls in between these – e.g. Moby Dick was scored 57.9 by Amazon – then the numbers closest to your score is your reading level.
Kincaid’s test isn’t perfect, of course. It doesn’t check for spelling mistakes or if your sentences make any sense.
But as a tool for reading ease, it helps you keep your copy in line and stop you from over-complicating what you’re trying to say.
So back to the educational publisher’s paragraph.
If it were scored on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test, where would it land?
- 45.7 – the university graduate level
And the copy on this website (Clarity Tom)?
- 80.8 – the same level as a Harry Potter reader – and so much more universal and accessible.
To test your own copy, all you need to do is take a look at this site (it’s free). Simply copy and paste in some example copy and find out how you score.
The ultimate test of copy
Creating copy everyone understands is always going to be a ongoing challenge for us all, as we grow our businesses.
And if you discover, by using the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test, that your copy isn’t at the reading level you want it to be, it’ll at least keep you mindful when it comes to creating copy in the future.
And making sure what you do publish prevents readers you do want as your audience from passing you by.
Image: Felipe Morin