Keep It Simple, Not Stupid

by Dan Hutson on April 2, 2009

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photo by Collin Anderson

Why is it that so many people consider simple writing too simplistic? I edit other people’s writing and my own with an eye toward directness and ease of comprehension. But I’ve found that many people have an annoying tendency to try to “re-complicate” what I’ve simplified.

Maybe they think a simple, straightforward approach reflects poorly on them. Maybe they’re afraid that readers won’t think them capable of complex thought. But if you’re looking to ensure the greatest comprehension among members of your target audience, then you should be doing everything you can to be clear. Direct. Easy to understand.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I only recently started using the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests as a gut-check on my own writing. It’s an invaluable tool for helping you polish your writing and ferreting out whatever is getting in the way of clarity and conciseness.

There are two tests. One measures reading ease and the other lets you know the grade level at which you’re writing. A reading ease score of 80 percent means that 80 percent of readers should understand what you’re writing. A grade level score of 8 means that anyone with an eighth-grade education will get it.

Most newspapers are geared toward this reading level for a simple reason: They want to maximize their potential readership. They understand that overly complicated, dense writing drives readers away. You should too.

By the way, I ran this entry through Flesch-Kincaid and got a reading ease score of 65 and a grade level score of 7.6. Not bad, but it could be better.

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