Evaluating Your Copy’s Readability

“The real trouble with the writing game is that no general rule can be worked out for uniform guidance, and this applies to sales as well as to writing.”  Erle Stanley Gardner

All of the hard work you put into generating sales copy will be wasted if your copy isn’t easy to read. Disjointed sentences, spelling errors, and other basic problems can ruin your credibility with your reader. If those are your challenges, then you probably need to take a step back and brush up on your grammar.

What more copywriters struggle with are simple oversights that keep copy from being readable and inviting.

Street Sign Against a Blue Sky: The Easy WayThe good news is that increasing your copy’s readability is easy to do. Start by using short sentences and simple words. This will allow you to break up big blocks of text — which are intimidating for most readers — into more manageable paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is to keep paragraphs to three or four sentences each.

Avoiding certain types of words and phrases also good for improving readability. Let’s take a look…

Euphemisms — Euphemisms are turns of phrase that people use when they don’t want to call things what they are for fear of offending someone. Politicians use these a lot. While you may think you’re sparing your readers’ feelings, most readers will feel you’ve insulted their intelligence. It’s best to just be straightforward and communicate clearly.

Buzzwords — You may think these important-sounding words or phrases will impress your audience. But chances are your readers will feel like you’re trying too hard. Don’t use them if they aren’t integral to your selling proposition.

Some examples of buzzwords include proactive, downsizing, outsourcing, and actionable. Buzzwords don’t necessarily include industry-specific terms. Those you may need to use to explain certain products or processes. But be careful when using industry terms. Peppering your copy with too many of them can alienate the reader. When you do use industry terms, make sure they are current and relevant.

Corporate-speak — Leave the corporate lingo out of your copy. Web copy is distinctly different from corporate communications or journalistic pieces. Stay away from tired, old phrases like “Our customers are our first priority” or “We are committed to your success.” Instead, come up with something that is new and engaging, and that conveys specific, tangible benefits.

Clichés — Clichés diminish the value of your writing and make it look dated. This, in turn, could affect how your readers view your offer. Some examples of sales clichés you should avoid include: “Increase your productivity,” “Saves time and money,” “Competitive advantage,” and “Unique opportunity.” Like corporate-speak, these are tired, old phrases that people have become jaded to. Say the same thing in a creative, new way, like “Increase your monthly production by 30% without additional employees!” or “Our widget will perform the same task in half the time — with a 10% reduction in expenses!”

Adjectives and adverbs — Adjectives and adverbs tend to weaken the impact of your writing. Descriptive terms like “overly amazing,” “very impressive,” “successful specialists,” “pertinent news,” and… well, you get the idea. Adjectives and adverbs rob your writing of conviction. If you find your copy is riddled with too many descriptors, start cutting words and simplify your sentences. If you need an adjective to make your point, choose a compelling one that crystallizes the thought you want to communicate.

And speaking of communication… that is, after all, what you’re hired to do. It’s up to you to do it in the most effective way possible. Don’t make the mistake of substituting information for communication. The Internet is filled to the brim with information. But it is the person who can communicate it who will rise above the clutter. Communication creates interest, triggers enthusiasm, and motivates people to take an action.

One last point: Microsoft Word has a tool that will rate your document on its readability statistics. To access this tool, click “Tools” on your MS Word task bar. Next, select “Spelling and Grammar,” and click “Options.” Then, click on the “Show Readability Statistics” box.

The higher the Flesch Reading Ease score, the easier it is for people to understand your writing. Readability statistics will also give you the average number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of your writing. Most effective sales copy falls into the 7th or 8th grade reading level. If yours is much higher or lower than that, rethink your approach. Or do some editing to change your score.

We’ll stop there for now and pick it up again next time. Until then… and as always…

Good health and good writing!

 

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John Torre

I reside in North Brunswick, NJ, with my wife, Lynn, and daughters Kasey, Jaclyn, and Shelly. We also have a 110 pound, lovable Rottie named Leo that keeps us on our toes! When we're not hard at work we enjoy spending weekends at our bungalow down the Jersey shore, or take extended trips to Walt Disney World as members of the Disney Vacation Club. For kicks, I draw on my dominant "right-brain" and play guitar in classic rock and blues bands, act for local plays and independent productions, and enjoy writing creative fiction. I'm a published author in short fiction and stage plays and a graduate of a local community college's Commercial Writer's Certificate Program. After graduating from the program I was selected as an instructor and taught "Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror" writing for 8 years. I enjoy many fine relationships I made with my students to this day.

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