Much of the content that I write and edit at GLC is for readers who are presumed to have limited literacy skills. The 50-plus-version, multi-lingual publication I produce for this audience is required to measure at the sixth grade reading level or below.
However, being aware of reading level is also helpful for highly educated readers. Busy people want to be able to quickly scan a story, and using these tips to keep the reading level around the eighth or ninth grade level can make it easier for your readers to get in, get out, and get the information they need.
Over time, I’ve learned many tricks and tips for hitting the desired reading level, including:
1. Watch your vocabulary. Choose short, simple words. For example, never say “utilize” when you could say “use” instead. (Actually, don’t ever say “utilize” for any audience.) Direct the reader to call customer service for “help” instead of “assistance.”
2. Keep sentences short. Avoid compound sentences. Set your love for the comma or em dash aside. And don’t worry about starting sentences with “and” or “or.” You will need to do this to avoid using compound sentences. Your paragraphs should also be short. In fact, the whole article should be as short as possible.
3. Beware of redundancies or repetition. This unnecessary filler can quickly bloat sentences and raise the reading level. This is a great opportunity to practice being concise.
4. Bulleted lists are your friends. They can help you avoid long, compound sentences. They also make stories easier for the reader to scan and create another access point into the article.
5. Know how to game the system. If you need to document reading level, many agencies accept certain tricks for lowering the reading level. For example, they may allow you to remove phone numbers or technical terms from the Word document you use to check the reading level.
Do you have any tricks for keeping the reading level down for your audience? Drop me an email because I would love to hear them!