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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Pack More Punch Into Your Copy. Use Active Voice Instead of Passive Voice!

January 21, 2010

In the English language, voice is used to refer whether the subject of the sentence is doing something, or receiving the action. An active voice tells you that the subject is acting, doing something. In writing, it makes your copy more alive, more engaging and more personal.

Look at this sentence: “John drives a red Ferrari.”

This is the active voice. Here, the subject is the driver, John,who is doing something to the car and there’s some action. You can feel the impact that active voice infuses into the sentence, making it more lively and more active.

Now imagine how it’ll sound like in passive voice : “The red Ferrari was driven by John.”

Feel the difference?

Firstly, the impact is gone because the subject has been moved from doing the action to receiving the action, thus making the sentence sound unemotional and boring. Secondly, the sentence length increases by another 40% for no extra meaning.

So instead of saying, “The goods have been received by customer service” (passive), say “Customer service has received the goods” (active). Instead of saying, “I am looking forward to meet you”, say “I look forward to meet you” as it sounds more personal.

While passive voice can make your writing long-winded, dull and confusing, there are some occasions when it would be more appropriate.

Some examples:

  • When you want to give extra emphasis to something noteworthy – “Lawry’s Steakhouse has been rated as one of the world’s top restaurants.” Here, the focus is on Lawry’s Steakhouse.
  • When you want to downplay the severity of an issue where tact is concerned – “Apology letters have been issued to our clients regarding the product mix-up.” Here, the focus has been taken away from the mistake – the product mix-up.

In conclusion, I encourage you to use your judgment when you write and you will only get better with experience. If you feel that your sentence sounds nicer in passive voice, then use it. But just be sure to vary using the active voice and passive voice wherever appropriate.


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