Editing for Readability – Tutorial No. 1

Thank you for visiting my business writing blog.

In this tutorial I’ll take you through the readability edit of a typical About Us page for a small business. The rule for readability is simple:

Use short words and short sentences. Your writing will be easier to read.

The original came straight off the web. I have changed the name of the company to “Brand Insulation”. Here’s how to nip and tuck a 3-paragraph text.

‘About Us’ AS PUBLISHED:

Brand Insulation is a family owned and operated company that supplies and installs high performing insulation products with the support of practical and friendly advice. The company was established by a husband and wife team in 1998 after twenty years experience working in the building industry.

Our management team are equipped with extensive knowledge of all aspects of the insulation industry and we draw on the depth of experience provided by our extended team of trusted contractors who understand all facets of insulation installation.

Brand Insulation provide a wide range of insulation products and services, we are also always available to provide free advice on the best insulation option for your home or office. 

FLESCH READABILITY DATA

Total words = 114                                   Flesch Reading Ease = 26.5

Avg. words per sentence = 28.5           Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 16.6 years

You have probably never heard of ‘Flesch Readability Data’. Here’s the extremely short version: In the 1940s psychologist Dr Rudolph Flesch worked out an algorithm for calculating how easy a piece of text was to read. The higher the final number, the easier to read; the lower the number, the more difficult. With J.P. Kincaid he worked out the equivalent number of years of schooling required for a person to be able to easily read the text.

Edit your business writing to a Flesch Reading Ease score of 40 to 60, or a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of around year 10. According to the OECD’s International Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey (2006), this is the average reading level for adults in English-speaking countries.

On the Flesch scale our sample text is a bit harder to read than the Harvard Law Review, which is said to Flesch out at just over 30.

Now I’ll take you through the edit, step by step. Problem areas are highlighted in purple.

Brand Insulation is a family owned and operated company that supplies and installs high performing insulation products with the support of practical and friendly advice. The company was established by a husband and wife team in 1998 after twenty years experience working in the building industry.     (46 words)

Flesch Reading Ease = 30.8      Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 14.7 years

I would leave ‘family owned and operated’ until after we’ve established ‘husband and wife team’. We can replace ‘high performing’ with a single word, and ‘support of practical and friendly advice’ is treated more economically in para #3. ‘The company’ can become ‘It’. I would move ‘in 1998’ to right after ‘established’. Also, if we say ‘twenty years experience’ in the context of installing insulation, then ‘working in the building industry’ is unnecessary.

To clean up the grammar and punctuation, the noun ‘years’ must be in the possessive case, years’, when it is used to modify another noun, ‘experience’.

Here’s the edited para:

Brand Insulation supplies and installs quality insulation products. It was established in 1998 by a husband and wife with twenty years’ experience. The family still owns and operates it today.          (30 words)

Flesch Reading Ease = 44.4         Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 9.6 years

Now look hard at paragraph #2:

Our management team are equipped with extensive knowledge of all aspects of the insulation industry and we draw on the depth of experience provided by our extended team of trusted contractors who understand all facets of insulation installation.     (38 words)

Flesch Reading Ease = 14.65          Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 20.66 years

I would dump all reference to ‘our management team’, because we’ve already established that they had 20 years’ experience when they started the business back in 1998. About the only news in this para is that the contractors are trusted and experienced. So let’s boil the lot down to just this (and change the slightly pompous ‘facets’ to the more workmanlike ‘areas’):

Our trusted contractors have experience in all areas of installation.                           (10 words)

 Here’s the final paragraph:

Brand Insulation provide a wide range of insulation products and services, we are also always available to provide free advice on the best insulation option for your home or office.                                          (30 words)

Flesch Reading Ease = 29.8          Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 16.6 years

We’ve established in para #1 that Brand supplies and installs quality insulation, so the highlighted clause is redundant. The ‘advice’ story is the only news, but we need to transmit it in as few words as possible.

As a rule of thumb, when you see phrases like ‘… X is able to do Y …’ — just change them to read like this: ‘X does Y.’ In this case we change ‘we are also always able to provide’ to simply ‘We also provide’. I’ve also cut ‘option’, because Brand doesn’t supply and install options, only insulation. I changed ‘office’ to ‘business’ as it’s more inclusive; ‘business’ includes small shops, for instance. 

Here’s the final edit:

We also provide free advice on the best insulation for your home or business.         (14 words)

The only thing left to do is to merge what’s left of para #2 and para #3 into a single paragraph. I don’t like leaving those two little sentences on their own like that. The edited About Us page now looks like this:

About Us AS EDITED:

Brand Insulation supplies and installs quality insulation products. It was established in 1998 by a husband and wife with 20 years’ experience. The family still owns and operates it today.

Our trusted contractors have experience in all areas of installation. We also provide free advice on the best insulation for your home or business. 

Total words = 54                                     Flesch Reading Ease = 48.6

Avg. words per sentence = 10.8           Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 9.2

 Comparing the data we see that the edited version is less than half as long as the original, with sentences almost one-third the length. The Flesch Reading Ease score indicates that the edited version is almost twice as easy to read as the original. And the grade level is down from university graduate to first year of high school.

Now don’t get carried away by these hard-edged numbers. After scanning the original paragraphs, you probably had a fair idea of what Brand Insulation was about. You probably knew more about Brand Insulation after reading the original paragraphs than you would have known about three paragraphs in the Harvard Law Review, which is theoretically easier to read.

The issue here is not absolute readability, but improved readability. The point — and the benefit of using the Flesch method with your word processor — is to make your final draft easier to read than your first draft.

This is all a bit easier to follow when you watch the video tutorial:

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About Copymentor

Australian and US copywriter, creative director and author
This entry was posted in Business, Editing, English and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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