Just Slightly Contrarian: This Ain't Literature You're Writing
Read commercial mail. Yes, again, out loud. Once you get into all this, you’ll be amazed at how the writers use simple words and homespun, down-to-earth expressions and colloquialisms to build word pictures and tell stories.
Check out the vocabulary. Actually, you should do this on three different levels. Level one is basic usage, which is at an eighth-grade level. Level two is the technical words used to express the particular mission of the organization. For example, a disease-type appeal will have, from necessity, certain medical words. An ecology appeal will have certain words that relate to our environment.
And then you have, at level three, the organization’s “buzzword” vocabulary, along with the shorthand phrases and initials, and the executive jargon. Be careful!
And be wary of putting together, in a sentence or a paragraph, too many technical words, too much organizational “buzz” and too many initials. Your donors do not deal with these topics on an everyday basis like you do.
And how do you know whether or not you’re using too many complicated words and if you are writing at an eighth-grade reading level? Pull up one of your letters in Microsoft Word. Pull down the tools menu on the top bar of the screen and choose Options. Then click on Spelling and Grammar. Next, click on Readability Statistics.
Look at the information for the Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch Kincaid Grade Level data. The Flesch Reading Ease score needs to be 60 or higher for your material to be considered eighth-grade reading level. In Word, this article you are now reading was analyzed at a 7.9-grade reading level, with a Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease of 60.1.
Forget what you know
So, if you’re writing fundraising letters at a college graduate level, just what do you do to bring your copy down to an eighth-grade reading level? Here are a few quick suggestions — perhaps too quick because entire books have been written on this important subject.