By: Elena Forbes
Creatively crafting compelling content for any number of performances, programs, and posts can easily help you stand out as an arts manager. But how can you tell if what you wrote is compelling? How do you know if it’s clear and concise? Let me stop with the alliteration and tell you how…readability methods!
Readability methods are designed to be objective and measure your writing quality in a quantitative way. They can help you tailor your language for specific audiences, help you improve your current writing style…really, the applications are endless. I myself only discovered them a little over a year ago.
Full disclosure: there are many methods out there to assess readability, but the one I’m presenting here is, in my opinion, the most accessible and the easiest to understand. So, without further ado, enter the Flesch and Flesch-Kincaid readability methods.
So, why Flesch? It’s a tool that can be activated in Microsoft Word through the spell check feature and it takes no additional widgets to get. Real talk: everyone uses Word these days for their writing needs. You can’t get much more easily accessible than that.
This particular method also produces two different statistics: Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Flesch Reading Ease determines how easy it is to read what you wrote. It is typically calculated on a scale of 0-100 based mostly on word length; the higher the number the easier your work is to read. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level assigns a grade to your writing on a scale of 0-20 based mostly on sentence length and structure. The lower this score, the easier it is to read and understand your work.
It’s important to know that not all writing will demand a high Reading Ease and a low Grade Level; some forms of writing are naturally more challenging, like contracts and policies. However, if you find your content doesn’t score where it should, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you edit**:
- Use short, simple sentences. Find ways to use fewer words to say similar things. This will increase reading ease. Long, complicated sentences are hard to understand and tend to hide your meaning. I always cringe when I get 4-5 page appeal letters for this exact reason. Length isn’t bad, just know your audience and make sure you’re consistently conveying new, direct thoughts.
- Choose your words wisely. Make sure to put the most important words at the beginning and ends of sentences, and select words that aren’t too long or complex. Short words can be bad for readability too. Multiple prepositions (i.e. of, at, in, on, as, etc.) can indicate long, awkward sentences. We’ve all seen this run rampant in poorly-crafted mission statements. Again, know what you want to say and make sure you’re choosing words your readers know…and for goodness’ sake just say it!
- Related to this…avoid “empty” words. In the arts, this trap is SO easy to fall into. For example, instead of using the word “program”, you could use: class, seminar, outreach event, a formal event title, production/performance name, etc. Proper names and titles can add so much meaning to even the simplest of texts.
- Don’t be afraid of first person. When writing on behalf of an organization, it is OK to use “we” or “our” in the proper setting (unless you have a specific reason not to). This helps express ownership and makes the organization seem more welcoming and less bureaucratic. Just, don’t overdo it. Like all good things, exercise moderation.
Hopefully someone in the EALDC-verse found this helpful and is now better prepared to compose a killer e-newsletter, grant application, contract, annual appeal letter, and more. A strong aptitude for writing may be one of the most important skills that any arts manager can have in their arsenal and tools like this can be invaluable resources for self-motivated professional development.
I’ll leave you with this…this blog post scored a 64.8 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade level of 7.8. How do YOU think I did?
**Tips for this blog post have been sourced from an invaluable presentation done by Shane Pekny at the 2016 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference titled “Readability Statistics: How to Write With Greater Power, Clarity, and Economy”. Some tips were pulled from additional sources, which are listed below.
Instructions on how to activate readability statistics in Microsoft Word.
Additional Sources and Readings:
How to Write Plain English by Rudolf Flesch (1981)
Derivation of New Readability Formulas for Navy Enlisted Personnel by Peter Kincaid (1975)
The Classic Guide to Better Writing by Rudolf Flesch (1996)