'Flesching' Out Stronger Copy
If you write copy using Microsoft Word, don't write another sentence before you do this:
- Go to the File drop-down menu and click Options.
- From the Options menu, click on Proofing.
- Look for the bold heading that says When correcting spelling and grammar. Click the box that says, Show readability statistics.
- Close out and now open a Word document that was written for a donor or prospect. Run spell check. You should now see a box that looks like the image on this page.
You've just launched the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Index, developed in 1975 for the U.S. Navy by J. Peter Kincaid. Originally designed to assess the difficulty of reading technical manuals, it has been expanded to use in hundreds of different situations.
And it's a letter-perfect tool for direct marketers. (Note: If you can't find Options in your File drop-down menu, look in the Preferences section under the Word drop-down menu; from there, go to Spelling & Grammar. At the bottom of that box, you should see a box to check to "show readability statistics.")
The three Readability numbers at the bottom of the box can be a great guideline to keeping your copy concise, punchy and powerful — the qualities it needs to grab your audience by the lapels and make it listen to you.
The Passive Sentences figure is just a count of the percentage of your sentences that are written in a passive voice. If you struggle with this, the Grammar Girl can help.
The Reading Ease figure measures difficulty as a negative. In other words, the higher your score, the easier your document is to read. Here's the breakdown:
- 90 to 100: Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
- 60 to 70: Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students
- 0 to 30: Best understood by university graduates
Finally, the Grade Level is just that — the grade level generally required to read and understand the document. In direct marketing, you want to aim for at fifth- to eighth-grade level. Any higher than ninth grade and you're going to lose some readers. Not because you're talking over their heads, but because the writing just isn't going to be as energetic.
Flesch-Kincaid is a small tool that can be a big help. Readability stats won't do your writing for you, but they can definitely make the writing you do stronger!
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.