When writing, a lot of people automatically go into ‘bullshit’ mode. Do you know what I mean? They sit down at their laptop and start using unnaturally long and complicated language, often quoting Wikipedia. ‘Use your big words’ say primary school teachers throughout your entire childhood, and that’s a hard habit to extricate oneself from… ;)
‘I’m sharing my opinion with the world, therefore I must sound as intelligent as possible while doing it.’ I used to be one of these people and, in the moments leading up to writing an angry letter to the council, I go back to eating Thesaruses with that square but you end up sounding cold and inhuman, and even more tragically – you alienate your audience.
According to see-a-voice.org the average reading age of the UK population is just 9 years old. This number shocked me. Then I read that The Sun has a readability age of 8 years old, and now I find comfort in understanding it’s popularity a bit more.
Since discovering the whole readability thing, I can’t get it out of my head. If a 9 year old wouldn’t understand what you’re writing about then neither will the majority of the UK. I now add ‘test readability’ to my checklist before sending my drafts over to clients, it helps me to polish the tone of voice, and often knocks me back into reality when I’m stuck in ‘business mode’.
There are some good tips out there on how to check yours. The easiest way is to copy and paste your writing into Microsoft Word then it’s easy with the following steps. Or if it’s something that you can’t easily paste, you can try out the ‘SMOG’ test, which eloquently stands for ‘simplified measure of gobbledygook’ and has a numerical guide that seems to favour multiples of three. Strange but effective.
It’s important to remember the kids who can’t read good, just one of the many things in life I learned from Derek Zoolander.
(Special thanks to Liz Nunn for complimenting me on my readability over dinner one night, which brought this to my attention.)