Avoid utilization of esoteric verbiage! (I mean, don’t use big words)

If the purpose of your writing is, “to impress readers with my amazing vocabulary skills,” then by all means, break out the fancy prose and five syllable words. But, if you want your readers to act on your message, buy your product, or simply to “get it,” then check your thesaurus at the door.

Write conversationally as if you’re talking to your mother over coffee. For example:

Instead of this: A member shall be entitled to the medically necessary covered benefits as specified in accordance with the terms and conditions of the Certificate of Coverage which you will receive after enrollment in the plan.

Write this: Once you enroll, we’ll mail your Certificate of Coverage, which includes all the details of the plan.

But… my audience is more sophisticated than that!

We’re smack in the middle of the age of (over) information. Even doctors, lawyers and rocket scientists have better things to do than read everything that crosses their path. It’s not about dumbing down the English language. It’s about respecting people’s time. An easy read is a fast read.

Test your document for readability

You can get readability scores to make sure everyone on your audience list can quickly and easily understand your materials. Here’s how to check the readability of a Microsoft Word document: (You can do this for the entire document, or select a specific sentence, paragraph, section or chapter to test only that portion.)

For Microsoft Word 2010:

  1. Go to File/Options/Proofing
  2. Click Show readability statistics.
  3. Go to Review and click Spelling & Grammar to run the grammar check.

For earlier versions of Microsoft Word:

  1. Go to Tools/Options:
  2. Click Show readability statistics.
  3. Go to Tools/ Spelling and Grammar to run the grammar check.

You only have to set it up once. Then use the grammar checker anytime and fix as needed. When you’re done, a results window will display.

Look for:

  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: Aim for an appropriate reading grade level depending on your audience: Grades 9 – 12 for professionals, and grades 5 – 8 for consumers or the general public.
  • Passive sentences: This displays as a percentage. It’s hard to tell who performs the action in passive sentences, so make every sentence active. Always aim for 0% or as close to it as possible.
  • Readability ease score: Keep this score above 50. Aim higher (65) if writing to a general audience.

One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch

One big word or complicated sentence can throw off the readability of the entire paragraph or document. To fix, read over your manuscript to see where you can simplify. Choose everyday words. Break up larger sentences. Use bulleted lists to simplify. And always use active voice.

Jeanette Juryea is President of QubComm, your Corporate Communications department in the virtual Qubicle next door. Send an email to Jeanette@qubcomm.com for professional writing, editing and design services from award-winning writers. You can also ask about writer training, brand/style guide development, existing communications analysis and more.