Just How Clear A Writer Are You?
Clear writing is in demand. From the executive suite to front line employees, readers are clamoring for clear, succinct, to-the-point messages that make sense and bring value. Is your writing (e-mail, letters, reports, proposals) clear, explanatory, and succinct? Or is it foggy, muddled, and long-winded? How can you find out if your writing is helping or hindering today’s busy reader?
Assess your reader response rate
Quite simply, take note of how often people respond positively to your writing – or if they respond at all. If your writing is hard to read, people may not be getting the point or, in worst-case scenarios, they may have given up trying.
If you suspect that you have a problem with your writing, ask a few people who receive your messages regularly to give you honest feedback. It is not a perfect measurement technique, but it is a good start.
Check your clarity with IWCC’s Impact Indicator
If you are a graduate of one of IWCC’s 2-day writing workshops, you will have used IWCC’s Impact Indicator in the past. Go back to your course manual and look up the Impact Indicator in the Table of Contents. Apply the Impact Indicator to several samples of your writing. Your score will tell you how clearly you are writing.
Let the Flesch-Kincaid Tool do the work
In a hurry? You can quickly check any Microsoft Word document for readability. Word uses a tool called the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. The test has two parts: reading ease and grade level. The reading ease score is the one to focus on. (The grade level test is a more crude measurement and is less reliable.)
This test scores your writing on a scale of 1 – 100 (100 being the best). The analysis shows your average words per sentence (try for no more than 20 words). It also shows the percentage of sentences in which you used passive verbs that make sentences harder to read.
Your goal is to aim for an overall readability score higher than 50. This article, for example, scores 60 on the readability scale; it has an average 14 words per sentence; and it has no passive verbs. By comparison, Time magazine scores about 52 while the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30’s (a tough read!).
How to use the Flesh-Kincaid: It's simple. In any Word document, go to in the menu bar. Select from the drop down menu. Click on the tab, and then select. You are now ready to check the readability statistics of your document. Simply run the spelling and grammar checker in Word. After each time you run the spelling and grammar check, a message box will appear detailing the statistics for your document.
Checking your clarity is worth a try
While the science behind readability formulas is not perfect, tools such as the IWCC Impact Indicator and the Flesch-Kincaid are reasonable indicators of how clearly you write.
One word of caution: These tests measure the clarity of your writing only at the sentence level. They do not measure how cohesive your writing is; whether you have the right level of detail; or if you have expressed yourself in a constructive tone. These tools, however, are a good start and, if nothing else, they can alert you to a document that may need some editing.
Clear, easy-to-read writing is something worth striving for in your career. It will enhance your standing as a good communicator, and it will enhance your career. More importantly, your readers will love you for it!