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Flesch reading ease: Your website is not a college textbook

Flesch-reading-ease for a six year old5 seconds … or less … is your window of time to connect with your website visitor and entice them to look further.

What does your website say?

Is it frank, direct and clear? Or is it a complex muddle of confusing, long, run-on sentences packed with buzz words and industry lingo? Today’s web searchers have no patience. They’re clicking through quickly if they don’t see what they’re looking for. Or leaving if something leaves them baffled about “what do you do?” and “why should I care?”

The Flesch Reading Ease score will improve your writing.

This simple tool, found in Word and many other writing programs, scores objectively and mercilessly. Once it’s turned on, it will show up after a grammar and spell check. If you can’t find it, search the help menu for instructions to activate it.

If you’re on WordPress, the SEO Yoast tool (free) also uses the Flesch Reading Ease score as it checks your copy for keywords and readability. It’s worth installing.

The formula looks at average sentence length, average number of syllables in words, length of each paragraph and active or passive writing. It delivers (in Word) multiple scores, including the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level as well as basics like word counts and averages.

What are your target scores?

The higher the Flesch Reading Ease score the better (the top is 100). The lower the grade level, the better. Generally more than 70 for reading ease. A grade level around 6th grade will give you clear and direct copy. In industries where terms are complex, this may be hard to do. Yet you’ll find even simple changes like using “financing” in place of “loans” or changing “purchase” to “buy” can improve your score.

It’s about helping your reader understand

When planning a web writing workshop for a government agency, I ran across examples of what might be considered “standard” web writing for government. Keep in mind, if anyone must appeal to a broad cross-section of demographics and reading styles, it’s the government. Unfortunately, that is not often reflected in their writing.

Example from the website:

Surviving a Layoff

You’ve gotten the news that you’re being laid off and whether your last day was today or is a month from now, this website is designed to help you through this transition. Here you will learn how to file for unemployment, update your resume and cover letter, adjust your budget until you find a new job as well learn about the various safety nets available to you and your family.
The most important thing you need to realize is it’s not your fault.

Flesch Reading Ease score 62.5 / Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 11.4  (not quite college, but close)

With a bit of work, significant edits and simplification, here is the revised example:

Get through a layoff.

You’re being laid off. Whether your last day was today or is a month from now, we’re here to help. Learn how to file for unemployment and update your resume and cover letter. Discover how to adjust your budget until you find a new job. Learn about the safety nets available to you and your family.

Remember–it’s not your fault.

Flesch Reading Ease 75.9 / Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 4.9

As you can see, the writing is simpler, more direct, more active. It communicates more clearly than the first example, yet covers the same information. Both reading ease and grade level are significantly improved.

Keep practicing, keep testing

The score can be used on a whole document, or on each paragraph. Keep editing and simplifying, then test again. Use your thesaurus to find shorter, simpler words to replace what you fall back on. I use these quick scan tests on my first drafts:

  • Is there an ‘and’ in the sentence? If so, can the sentence be broken into two with edits?
  • Are there lots of “ing” words? Those are passive and can be shifted to active with a rewrite. For example, practicing vs. practice. Reviewing vs. review. Planning vs. plan. When you rewrite to drop the “ing” your content is more active.

Better writing is an improved website

When your writing is clear and direct, you’ve passed one hurdle towards an engaged website visitor, because online searchers don’t read, they scan. Simple, direct language with lots of subheads and bullets will draw more people in. Avoid the long, complex descriptions. Eliminate big words that you’ll find in college textbooks. Simplify.

Improved writing will help all of your marketing. When your writing is active and your Flesch Reading Score is high, you’ll see bigger response. Isn’t that what you want from your marketing?

What else does your website need?

Download our Six Website Essentials Checklist to find out. Or talk to us about what you want your website to do for your organization. Email me here. 

GET MY 6 WEBSITE ESSENTIALS GUIDE

About the author

Jennifer Larsen Morrow

Jennifer's four decades of work in the industry, starting as a designer and adding marketing, copywriting and digital marketing, has generated response for clients since 1978.

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2 Comments

  1. I think there is something wrong with my wordpress plug in SEO Yoast. I thought I was writing simple enough but my score was 0. I took out more words and made sentences shorter. Still a zero. I took out my simplest one-liners. Still zero. Took out all the text and replaced it with the 75.9 example from this page and even THAT was zero. Yep. How am I supposed to know if my page is readable now?

    Reply
    • Hi, you’re right, it sounds like there’s something wrong with the plugin for SEO Yoast. Perhaps you need to reboot? Or uninstall and reinstall? It should definitely show something, not zero.

      Reply

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