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Reading You Loud And Clear! (Wait, what did you say?)

You’ve just launched a beautifully designed website. You’ve done your SEO research, your strategy is practically guaranteed to move market share, and your User Experience is…well, quite the experience. As for the content, it is (in the client’s opinion) rich, exciting and informative. But do you know for sure that your target audience will actually be able to understand a lick of it?

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), the average American reading level nets out at about 7th grade. This means that if your site content exceeds that, chances are your message is going to get lost. Unfortunately, that’s just what most adult consumers of internet-based consumer health information are: LOST.

Even various well-known consumer health sites including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Diabetes Association (just to name a few) provide content that would be categorized as “difficult” to comprehend. In fact, when the USDHHS evaluated a variety of articles from these popular sites, the majority were considered to be above a 9th grade reading level.

So how can we help our clients avoid the same pitfalls? The solution is simple: Readability Testing.

A quick recap on Readbility Testing

Readability does not refer to whether or not the headline on your home page is visible from six feet away—or how well your body copy is placed within a layout. Instead, it refers to a measure of how difficult your content will be for your readers to comprehend. More and more, it’s becoming a valuable and necessary factor to consider when creating a thorough content strategy.

By counting syllables, words and sentences, readability tests use various mathematical equations to gauge the semantic and syntactic complexity of your content. Using these tools is an easy and inexpensive way to guarantee that your content will generate the most strategic bang for your brand’s marketing buck.

There is an ever-growing range of free readability measurement tools used today, many of which use the same basic principles. These tests are readily available via the internet and some are even included in commonly used word-processing software programs (e.g., Microsoft Word). Really, the only cost involved is the time spent putting your content through its readability paces.

The following is a list of some of the most commonly known readability tests:

1. The Flesch Reading Ease formula will output a number from 0 to 100 – a higher score indicates easier reading. An average document has a Flesch Reading Ease score between 6 – 70. As a rule of thumb, scores of 90-100 can be understood by an average 5th grader. 8th and 9th grade students can understand documents with a score of 60-70; and college graduates can understand documents with a score of 0-30.

2. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is understood by an average student in 7th grade.

3. The Fog Scale (Gunning FOG Formula) is similar to the Flesch scale in that it compares syllables and sentence lengths. A Fog score of 5 is readable, 10 is hard, 15 is difficult, and 20 is very difficult. Based on its name, ‘Foggy’ words are words that contain 3 or more syllables.

4. The SMOG Index outputs a U.S. school grade level; this indicates the average student in that grade level can read the text. For example, a score of 7.4 indicates that the text is understood by an average student in 7th grade.

5. The Coleman-Liau Index relies on characters instead of syllables per word and sentence length. This formula will output a grade. For example, 10.6 means your text is appropriate for a 10-11th grade high school student.

6. Automated Readability Index outputs a number which approximates the grade level needed to comprehend the text. For example, if the ARI outputs the number 3, it means students in 3rd grade (ages 8-9 yrs. old) should be able to comprehend the text.

7. Linsear Write Formula is a readability formula for English text, originally developed for the United States Air Force to help them calculate the readability of their technical manuals. Linsear Write Formula is specifically designed to calculate the United States grade level of a text sample based on sentence length and the number words used that have three or more syllables.

Now do you read me?

In order to make appropriate health decisions, it’s essential that today’s consumers can understand what they’re reading. That’s why considering the health literacy of our target audience is something that we should view not as an option, but as a responsibility. By regularly employing readability testing for the content we create, we can better ensure that the information we’re crafting is ideally suited both to the strategic needs of our clients—as well as to the health needs of the end user.

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Stacey Davis

Stacey Davis

As Creative Director/Copy, Stacey Davis supervises the overall content creation and management for Cadient Group, from copywriting, editorial management and proofreading. She is responsible for overseeing the creative development of a complete range of digital multi-channel programs, including digital content creation, mobile marketing, digital advertising campaigns and contextual engagement programs. Prior to joining Cadient, Ms. Davis ran her own creative consulting group, providing creative direction and copywriting assistance to clients across the country, including Saatchi & Saatchi, Euro RSCG, Medical Broadcasting Company (now Digitas), Inventive Health, GSW, Knight Marketing, and the Thomas J Paul Company. An honors graduate from Temple University, Stacey received her degree in journalism with a focus in advertising and marketing. She resides with her family in Bucks County.

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