What You Don't Know About "Readability" Stats Could Be Killing Your Copy

Did you know that a clear 90% of the people in the U.S. read at a grade seven (age 12) level or lower?

Also, did you know that research shows reading from a computer screen is around 25% slower than reading from paper?

That's why you're taught in the AWAI program that …

  • You must write in plain English!
  • Your writing must be simple!
  • It must be clear!

Which means short and simple words, sentences, and paragraphs in your copy.

Are there any hard and fast rules? Not really. I'll give you some guidelines, though.

As far as words, sentences, and paragraphs go … don't use a ten-dollar word when a simple one will work just as well. Keep your sentences relatively short … say, 14-17 or fewer words. And if you have longer ones, break them up with ellipsis (…) or dashes (–).

As a general rule, paragraphs should not exceed 6 lines. However, I usually stay around 2 to 4. And it's a good idea to mix it up. Have some one-sentence paragraphs … even one- or two-word paragraphs.

Like this.

Actually, one of the best ways to learn how to write clearly is to study proven sales letters like the ones in your Hall of Fame book. Find the ones that you know are winners … the ones that are easiest to read … and model their layout/style. And if you're not already collecting even more good sales letters, get started now.

Get on the mailing lists of Agora Publishing, Phillips Publishing, and Rodale Books. And, if you're really serious, buy at least one or two products from each of them. You'll get more good-to-great sales letters, magalogs, bookalogs, etc. than you can shake a stick at … delivered right to your front door.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: There's a good thread on the AWAI forum right now called "Copywriting – good places to view the best examples?" under the "For Starters" area. You should check that out too.]

If you use Microsoft Word, you can test the readability of your ads and sales letters. Here's what you do: Click on the "Tools" button at the top of the screen. A menu will come up. In that menu, click on "Options." Then you'll see a "Spelling & Grammar" button. Click that. Then there's a check box at the bottom that says, "Show readability statistics." Click that. Then, when you spell-check your document, you'll get a box with information like this …



  • words: 1669
  • characters: 8785
  • paragraphs: 64
  • sentences: 99


  • sentences per paragraph: 3.8
  • words per sentence: 15.0
  • characters per word: 4.8


  • passive sentences: 2%
  • Flesch reading ease: 57.6
  • Flesch-Kincaid grade level: 8.9

Those are the readability statistics for this issue of The Golden Thread. Not great. (But, of course, this is a newsletter, not marketing copy.) In general, you should aim for a grade level of 6 or lower. And a reading ease of 70 or higher.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Scott Haines has worked with some of the top marketing gurus in the world including Jay Abraham, Gary Halbert, Robert Allen and more. He's not only a master copywriter and marketer but he's also joined AWAI's Board of Directors and will be heading up the new "Inside a Control" analysis. If you don't already subscribe to Scott's eletter but would like to, simply visit: http://www.killercopysecrets.com/ and sign up today. Scott has a knack for selling ultra-expensive products and services so we're excited to see what he does with the "Inside a Control" analysis…more details to come tomorrow.]

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Published: March 10, 2003

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