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Do you read like a 7th grader? Actually, the question should be, “Do you like to read like a 7th grader?” If so, you are like most people who read website and blog content. The average American adult reading level is that of a 9th grader. But popular mass-market novels are written at a 7th grade level because studies show adults prefer reading two grades below their ability.

A bunch of wrestlers. When writing anything for a mass audience, write for a 9th grade reading level.

From the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

Readability is important to everyone who is producing content. Good writers wrestle with their prose to find the perfect  level for comprehension and understanding.  So does that mean we have to write for 7th graders?

No and yes. No, you don’t have to write about puberty, pimples, popularity or the other things that interest 7th graders. Yes, to reach a mainstream consumer audience, you should strive for readability in the 7th-9th grade range.

Of course, your strategy may differ if you sell to other businesses and target highly educated readers, such as executives, professionals, scientists or investors. However, a study by the Nielsen Norman Group showed that website usability measures greatly improve, even for highly literate readers, when the website is rewritten for lower-literacy users.

Readability improves with simpler vocabulary and sentences that are shorter and less complex. “Chunking” your text also improves readability, and we talk about that in today’s Editor DOs and DON’Ts article.

Using a free online tool, such as Readability-score.com and Read-able.com, you can check the readability level of your text, or even your entire website. These tools measure average number of characters per word, syllables per word and words per sentence (among other things), then score your text with one or more reading level indexes, such as Flesch-Kincaid, Coleman-Liau or Gunning-Fog.

In our experience, most writers are surprised to see how high the reading level of their text actually is. They are even more surprised at how hard it is to write well using 7th grade vocabulary and sentence complexity.

Just as it takes more time to write a short article than a long one, it takes more time to write simply than to write with the vocabulary and jargon we normally use when speaking to people we work with. But the extra time is well worth it, because clear, concise content is so much more likely to be read and understood.

Need help writing or editing for your website or blog? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].