Is Anyone Paying Attention?

By Jennifer Devine

As a recent college graduate, I never thought much about readability. I took it for granted that readers could understand my writing.

Then I found out that half of all American adults read at or below a fifth grade level. In fact, content written at a tenth grade level reaches only 12% of American adults. I learned these eye-opening statistics during a “Tight, Bright, and Scannable: Reaching Digital Readers” seminar led by Ken O’Quinn and hosted by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Thankfully, O’Quinn also offered guidance on how to write in a way that provides a great reader experience, even in the highly regulated healthcare field where we must balance simple language with the need for medical precision.

Readers judge your writing by its paragraph length, punctuation, organization and style. Word usage and structure are just as important as word count and design of the copy. If you think you are doing everything possible to make your writing easier to comprehend, there is more you can do.

Try these tips in your next piece:

  • Shorten word length: 5.0 characters or less
  • Shorten sentence length: 14 words or less
  • Aim for 0% passive voice
  • Target a sixth grade reading level

We are all bombarded 24/7 by messages, e-mails and articles. Which ones do we actually open, read and remember? We choose the short, direct e-mail with the clear subject, not the lengthy article that hasn’t fully loaded on your iPhone. Short, clear and precise writing will help people pay attention to your message. In the healthcare field, it could even save a life.