Use this “Secret Weapon” for More Successful Writing
An essential lesson we teach Circle of Success members is if you want to be a successful copywriter, you must “write tight.”
What do we mean by “write tight?”
Tight copy uses the least number of words to get an idea across. It’s easy to understand. It’s conversational, natural sounding.
In short, tight copy is readable. Readability isn’t the only quality of tight writing, but it’s one of the most crucial. If your writing isn’t easy to read, it gets tossed.
Science Proves: Simpler is Better
Scientific research shows our brains are hardwired to trust simpler writing. Simpler writing doesn’t work better because it’s easier to read. It works better because it’s more believable.
New writers resist writing simply. They feel they have to dazzle readers with their brilliance. They want to sound impressive. So they use complex sentences and big words.
It’s not their fault. We’re educated to believe complexity shows intelligence.
This is far from true. Much great fiction embraces simplicity. Take a look at these familiar titles’ estimated reading grade level (3.4 means 3rd grade, 4th month):
- Of Mice and Men — 3.4
- Gone with the Wind — 7.0
- To Kill a Mockingbird — 5.9
- The Road (2007 Pulitzer Prize winner) — 4.4
A 7th grader can easily read these great works!
Plague of the Black Debt, one of the most successful book-a-logs in direct marketing, mailed 14 million pieces … generating over $7 million revenues.
Master Copywriter Lee Euler covered a complex subject without making his writing complex. His writing averaged 6.8.
A Simple Tool to Hone in on Readability
Copywriting succeeds when it’s believable. Not believable and it won’t get read.
So wouldn’t it be nice if you had a tool to measure readability?
There is: The Flesch-Kincaid (FK) Readability Test. FK is a computerized tool that rates reading ease, expressing it as a grade level.
An FK Grade Level of 5.0 or below is very easy to read. A rating of 10.0 or above is very difficult to read. As a copywriter, you should shoot for FK between 5 and 8.
MS Word comes with the FK test built in to its grammar/spell checker. Check in Word’s Help menu to find out how to turn it on.
If you’re on a Mac and don’t use Word, download the free software “Word Counter” from http://www.supermagnus.com/mac/index.html. This small application gives the same information for any Mac word processor.
Understanding the Numbers
After running the spelling/grammar check in Word, a box pops up with three divisions: Counts, Averages, and Readability.
Some copywriters make the mistake of only looking at the Readability section. The numbers there tell you how easy or hard your copy is to read. But they don’t tell you what’s giving you a high score if you get one. So, you need to look at all the sections.
This section gives the number of words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences in your document.
This heart of your readability stats tells the number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word.
The more characters per word, the longer the word, the harder your copy is to read.
The more words per sentence, the more complicated your sentences are … and harder to understand.
The more sentences per paragraph, the denser your copy looks … and the more uninviting to read.
The bottom section gives Flesch Reading Ease (ignore this), and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level — the important number.
Warning: FK is important, but it’s only a tool. The most important part of “readability” is this. Does your writing hit your prospect’s core complex and make him want to act?
Copy with FK 5.9 that doesn’t do that fails as quickly as one with an FK of 13.2.
In future issues, we’ll look at lowering FK and making your copy more compelling.
My FK here? 6.4.
The Professional Writers’ Alliance
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