Always choose clarity over cleverness.
It’s a copywriter’s mantra but many writers can’t wait to pop on their clever trousers, assuming that the more clever their copywriting is the more professional it is.
And the result is, well, it’s unreadable.
It’s not that cleverness has no place in copywriting. Not at all. It’s just that the easier your messages are to read, the easier they are understood and actioned!
Copywriting 101 says: Make sure your message is aimed at the right audience, matching their education and vocabulary.
As a copywriter, you’re not writing for you. You’re not even writing for your client. You are writing for their customers.
And a general rule of thumb, unless your target market has specific language needs (like being under 5, or super clever university boffins) marketing copywriting should be aimed at a high school education level – Year 9 or 10.
How can you grade your copywriting?
Several years ago my most excellent Hot Copy podcast co-host and talented copywriter, Kate Toon, put me onto this online tool for text readability. You simply plug in some text and get a grade rating plus a bunch of suggestions to improve the readability of your copy. You’ll see there are a few different grading formulas and the results are quite interesting.
Remember: the higher the grade, the harder it is for a wider audience to understand your copy. And lowering the grade doesn’t mean talking down to your audience. Just taking the hot air out of your copywriting.
How can you improve the readability of your copywriting?
If your want your copy to be understood without distractions, exchange long words for shorter (less ambiguous) words and reduce the average length of your sentences.
Here’s a great guide on readability vs sentence length:
Very easy 8 words or fewer
Easy 9 – 11 words
Fairly easy 12 – 14 words
Standard 15 – 17 words
Fairly difficult 18 – 21 words
Difficult 22 – 25 words
Very difficult 26 – 30 words
Remember: The longer the sentences and the more complicated the language, the harder your copywriting is to understand.
And it’s not just the words you need to simplify.
Simplifying your ideas is also key. And again, because it’s important, simplifying isn’t dumbing down. It’s ditching all the fluff and hot air to focus on the core issues, pains and solutions.
Another great tool to boost readability
If you haven’t heard of the Hemingway App, where have you been? It’s a fantastic (and free) tool that critiques your copywriting.
The tips it automatically gives you include:
The app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red.
You can utilize a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over them for hints.
Adverbs and weakening phrases are shown in blue. Get rid of them and pick words with force, perhaps>Phrases in green have been marked to show passive voice.
You may not implement every single suggestion but it’s a great tool to use in your editing phase.
As I’ve become more experienced as a copywriter, it’s the editing phase that takes more of my time and effort. So a tool or two is always welcome!
What about you? How do you improve the readability of your copy?
The Copy Detective
P.S. This article scored an average grade level of 9.3