Clear writing is essential if you want your message to get across clearly to your audience. But, what makes your writing clear will vary and is ultimately dependent on your target audience. Before you write, know who you are writing for.
A 1992 study showed that nearly one half of the American population does not read well enough to find a single piece of information in a short publication. Nor are they able to make low level inferences based on what they read. Even more startling is that close to three-quarters of the adults over age 60 find it hard to understand information presented in newspapers and simple written instructions. What does this mean to you?
If you are writing to the average reader, who reads at about a ninth grade level, you may be missing one half of your audience. If you are selling services, you lose. If you are selling products, you lose. If you are conveying essential information, you lose. You are not getting your message across to one half of the American population. So, what can you do?
Remember that a lower level of reading ability is not necessarily a sign of a lower level of intelligence. In fact, most people routinely read at least two grade levels lower than the amount of education they have received. And, if they are not avid readers, that level goes down even more.
Remember that the information, product, or service that you are selling can be conveyed clearly at any grade level for any audience. Less able readers can understand complex information if it is written and edited in a way that is clear to them. But, how do you know what is clear and what is not?
Many word processing programs include utilities such as the Flesch-Kincaid that estimate the grade level of your writing. Yet, these utilities are based on formulas that are not always reliable. And, formula writing often results in bad writing which further compounds the problem of clarity.
A more widely accepted method for determining the readability level of your writing is the Fry Readability Scale. This scale, based on sample passages of your writing, averages the number of sentences and number of syllables per 100 words. A score is determined and becomes the reading grade level.
Yet once, again, this formulaic approach to communication has drawbacks. If you simply eradicate complex information to lower the reading level, much of the essential message is gone. If, instead, you break all lengthy sentences into two or more shorter ones, your writing may be so choppy that no one will bother to read it. There is a balance, though.
If you use a vocabulary with which your audience is familiar, if you create a context that is relevant to their daily lives, the message in your writing will have more impact and will be more clear. This is not done by applying a word processing utility or a reading scale score. It is done by being aware of your audience and what their needs are.
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