Writing is seen as an art. Something subjective that you feel, but can’t really measure. Turns out, that’s not necessarily true.
In Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 Hour Body, he features the case study of Phil Libin. Phil wanted to lose weight, but he’d failed at both dieting and exercise on and off for years. Finally, he decided to see what effect doing nothing would have.
Each morning before breakfast he weighed himself naked and plotted the result on a chart, but apart from that he made no conscious effort to change his habits.
He lost two stone (12Kg) in six months.
He found that just by monitoring that one statistic – his weight – he could effect change.
In writing, you also have a statistic you can monitor that tells you how well you’re doing
It’s called the Flesch Reading Ease test – otherwise known as the ‘readability score’.
The FK score tells you how easy your writing is to read. It gives it a score based on how long the words you choose are and how many syllables they contain. It’s a very reliable indicator of how easy your writing is to read.
You can run your copy through it to find out how easy it is to read on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score, the easier it is to read. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty accurate.
For example, read this:
Advocates for military intervention in Syria this summer invariably pointed to a prevailing international norm when making their case. Military action, they argued, was the only way to enforce the worldwide prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.
This passage has a reading ease score of 29.5 out of 100. That’s low. You need to be about 21 to easily understand it.
Contrast that with the blog post you’re reading now, which has a reading ease score of 80. It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.
Some copywriters sneer at this tool, but the kind of writers I admire love it.
Copywriter John Fancher talks about texting colleagues: “85!” “90!” “92!” .
His friends know what he means just by the numbers. It means he’s written something that’s so simple a kid could read it.
And yes, he’s proud of this. You should be too. Why? Because simple words communicate. If you can take a complex idea and communicate it simply, that’s a very valuable skill.
There are other writing tools – Gunning Fog, the SMOG Index, the Coleman Liau Index. I wouldn’t worry too much about the differences. Most of the time they tell you the same thing.
I check my reading scores all the time. It’s a great way to get an idea of how well your message is coming across. It’s not perfect, but if
you run your copy through it and you get back “30 out of 100” it’s a red flag to revise.