Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Write to an 8th Grade Audience!

If you heard or read President Obama's speech yesterday, you know he delivered a simple message. How simple was it?

I copied the speech transcript from the NY Times and pasted it into Word. Then I checked the "readability statistics" of it. What did I find?

President Obama spoke 2430 words in his 18 minute inaugural address. Those words were written in 113 sentences in 76 paragraphs, or 1.5 sentences/paragraph. Although the sentences were written on the long side (21.2 words/sentence), they only used passive constructions 13% of the time. What does this all mean? It means a reading ease of 65.8 and a grade level of 8.6 (all according to Flesch and Flesh-Kincaid built into Word).

President Obama wrote wisely when he chose words and style to address an 8th grade reading audience. Studies have shown that Americans read between a 7th and 11th grade reading level. A recent NY Times headline said "Literacy among college graduates falling".

If you want to communicate, that is share understanding, if you want to motivate and persuade, you need to keep your writing simple. You need to use "plain language." You need to opt for short words and use them in short sentences and short paragraphs. When you write, and speak, with simplicity, you will be addressing an 8th grade reading level, the level at which most of your readers and listeners live.

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