MUST-READ for Copywriters and Marcom People: Fast and Easy Way to Make Your Copy Easier to Read

April 19, 2015

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a sales copywriter or a Marcom person, one of the most important things to do is to check your writing for readability.

You may have spent countless hours fine-tuning and editing your work but does it necessarily mean your readers can understand you?

So before you send your press release or sales brochure for print, make sure you understand this rule-of-thumb: the more readable your text is, the higher the chance you’ll get a response.

Before you go, “What?! Does that mean I have to proof-read my document again?” Here’s the GOOD NEWS: Checking for readability is as easy as a click of the button. It only takes a minute and involves very little work on your part.

Here’s what you should do:

Copy and paste your text into Microsoft Office Word 2010. If you’re not using Microsoft Word, you can use an online readability tool such as http://www.readability-score.com

In the menu bar at the top of the screen, click on Review.

Next, click on Spelling and Grammar:

Spelling and Grammar

In the window that pops up, click on Options:

PopupTick the little check-box that says Show Readability Statistics, then click on OK:

Show readability statsWhenever you run a spell-check on your document, you’ll get a summary of the readability statistics:

readability stats

Right up to this point, you’ll see several sets of figures. Don’t let them frustrate you. I hate numbers myself! But what we’re really interested in are the bottom 3 sets of scores

1. Passive Sentences is the percentage of your text using passive voice. The lower the percentage, the better.

Here’s why you should minimize the use of passive voice in your writing

2. Flesch Reading Ease is a highly accurate formula developed by world leading readability expert Dr. Rudolph Flesch. As the name suggests, the formula is based on the number of long words you use, and tells you how easy a text is to read. The higher the score, the better.

3. Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level relates to US Grade School reading ages. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an 8th grader can understand the document.

Now this doesn’t mean your reader has to be an 8th grader!

Bear in mind that your reader, who is very likely a busy person, has very little time (and patience!) in reading your copy. Asian readers, especially, hate to read something that is difficult to understand, or as they often say, “bombastic”.  It is very unlikely that he or she will give it full attention if they have to check the dictionary each time they encounter a difficult word (e.g. “tenacious”, “exacerbate”, “scintillating”, “collegial”).

You get the idea.

So always make your text easy for busy (and impatient) people to understand what you’re trying to say – without them having to check the dictionary.

If your Flesch Reading Ease score is low (e.g. 50 or below), it’s mostly due to sentence length. Proof-read your document again and pick out any long sentences. Could you reduce them? Or split them in two, even three? Check for any unnecessarily long words and use an online thesaurus such as http://www.wordreference.com for a simpler meaning of that word.

For example, could you say “co-operative” instead of “collegial”, or “lucky”, instead of “auspicious”?

Remember, the more easy your copy is to read, the higher the chance you’ll get a response!


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Copyediting Tips to Help You Produce Crisp, Error-free Copy

January 22, 2010

Copyediting is a critical part in every writing process because it lets you review over several drafts (I’d recommend 3) what you’ve written so you can make it tighter, more concise, more polished.

1ST DRAFT

Here’s a checklist to help you evaluate your first draft:

  1. Are there any obvious misspellings, inaccuracies in your information, punctuation or grammatical errors?
  2. Are there ambiguities and plot holes in your storyline?
  3. Does it fulfill your purpose and contain all the necessary information your readers need to know?
  4. Does your writing flow smoothly from one section to the next or does it feel jerky when read out loud?
  5. Does it speak to your readers in a language they will understand?
  6. Have you used sub-headings, bullet points, bold formatting and italics in all the right places?
  7. Does your content interest your readers?
  8. Is your content visually appealing and attractively laid out?
  9. Does it contain unnecessary words and useless repetition of text?
  10. MORE IMPORTANTLY, have you included a call to action?

2ND DRAFT

Review for tone of voice and add more life into your copy by using metaphors, similes, juxtaposition (a technique of comparing and contrasting ideas), famous quotes that resonate, words that paint vivid images in readers’ minds, or any form of expression that makes your storyline more involving.

3RD DRAFT

On your final draft, be sure to print out your document and proofread it for any typos (See my checklist for reviewing your first draft) you might have missed in your previous drafts.



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Proofreading Technique #2 – Have Someone Read Your Copy Out Loud to You

January 20, 2010

So you’re done with your copy. But how do you find out if it’s easy to read?

The solution is to ask a friend to read it out loud to you. In doing so, it draws you out of the plot and any errors that you might have missed initially will immediately sound more obvious to you.

When your friend reads over your copy, pay close attention. Listen to them and watch their facial expressions. Do they stumble over a few words and find themselves re-reading a phrase or two ? Do they frown in confusion over some portions of your copy? If the answer’s yes, then you’ll have to re-write and correct the problem areas in your copy.

If your friends are too busy to help you, try reading aloud to yourself. While this gives you a different perspective of what you’ve written, chances are you would have already known how some words are to be read. And this wouldn’t be as effective as listening to your own work being read by another person. Then again, it’s your second best choice!


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Proofreading Technique #1: Print Your Documents and Check One Thing at a Time

January 16, 2010

You’ll be surprised to learn that many people…well-educated people… couldn’t even be bothered to edit their everyday work.

Let’s take the office for example. How many times have you personally received emails or letters that are riddled with misspelt names, bad grammar or even worse, illogically-written information (E.g “This is not a sales pitch, but we’d like you to take advantage of our early bird offer!)?

As a reader, how did you feel? What kind of impression was left on you?

In fact, not remembering to edit your work could cost you sales, goodwill and reputation.  It doesn’t show that you care much for or respect your readers, some of whom could be your most important business clients or even your CEO!

To ensure those horrible outcomes don’t happen to you, get into the habit of printing your documents and checking them on paper. If  your office is particular about saving paper, then use recycled documents where 1 side is available for printing.

When you read things on print, you don’t have to squint your eyes as often as you do on a computer screen. This makes it less tiring for your eyes and you can concentrate better on proofreading your work.

As you are revising your work, slow down your pace and check for one item at a time. For example, you may focus on spelling first, then grammar, then punctuation, then your choice of words.

This way, your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed by multiple things at a time and you’ll be able to spot more errors and produce a polished piece of work that you (and your readers!) can truly be proud of.


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