I’m sure I’ve raved about this tool before, because I use it all the time. But the readability statistics tool in Microsoft Word is far and away one of my very favorite copywriting tools.
Yes, this is geeky and silly. But honestly, if you want to write good, easy-to-understand, high-converting copy, turn on the readability statistics in Word.
Here’s how you do it:
- Open Word
- Click on “Word” in the top menu
- Click on “Preferences”
- Click on “Spelling and Grammar”
- Under “Grammar” check the box that says “Show readability statistics”
That’s it. It’s ridiculously easy.
From now on, when you run Spellcheck, you’ll get a box that looks like this, once you’re done.
This is the readability statistics box for this post, by the way. It’s full of useful information, if you know how to interpret it.
Let me show you…
Interpreting Your Readability Statistics
So, you’ve got this little box… Now what?
Let’s start at the top, with “Counts.”
You’ll see the category of what’s being counted, and its corresponding number.
The first category is “Words.” This article came in at 1,038 before I edited it.
Why does this matter? Well first, if you’re writing a blog post like this one, you want it to be at least 500 words long. That’s what most experts agree is the minimum length for getting a good response from readers, and for good SEO (search engine optimization).
“Characters” just tells you how many letters, numbers, punctuation marks, etc. are in the document. Nice information, but not terribly relevant to what I’m talking about today.
“Paragraphs” lets you know how many paragraphs are in the document. “Sentences” gives you the same information at the sentence level.
Here’s where things get interesting…
Using the Averages
Good copywriting is easy to read and understand. That means you want to use fairly simple words, short sentences and paragraphs of no more than 3 lines. (4 is okay if you have a couple extra words that run over, but don’t make a habit of it.)
“Sentences per Paragraph” tells you whether you’re using shorter sentences. So, if you have one long sentence as a paragraph, break it into shorter sentences.
“Words per Sentence” can help with this too. I tend to average around 10-12 words per sentence. That’s not bad. I could be pithier, but hey, I am who I am.
There is a point to all of this, especially if you’re writing for the Internet. It’s easier for people to read shorter paragraphs with more “whitespace” around them. Also, shorter sentences and paragraphs are less intimidating to readers. If you want folks to read your stuff, make it easy for them.
“Characters per Word” tells you whether you’re using understandable words. If you use a lot of complicated words like “deposition” or “antidisestablishmentarianism,” your characters per word count will be pretty high. That’s fine if you’re writing for lawyers or doctors. Not so much for “regular folks.”
You want your characters per word count to average around 4-8. The shorter the word, the easier it is to understand (usually).
Which brings me to…
The Readability Section
This is the part of the readability statistics box I use the most. It shows the reading level someone needs to have to understand my writing, using the Flesch–Kincaid readability scoring system.
The Flesch–Kincaid (or FK) readability tests were developed for the Navy by a fellow named J. Peter Kincaid in 1975. The Navy was teaching high-tech information and needed it to be easy for soldiers to understand. For more on the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests, here’s the Wikipedia article I referenced for this post.
The “Flesch Reading Ease” statistic shows how easy it is for a person to read your writing. The higher your score, the easier it is to read what you wrote.
The “Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level” tells you what grade level a reader must have completed to be able to understand your writing. So, if your score is 6.3 (which is the score for this post), the average 6th grader can understand what you wrote. Good copywriting comes in between 5 and 8.
“Wait, why is that grade level so low?” I hear you say.
No, it’s not because you’re “talking down” to your readers. Quite the opposite. We’re all busy. The less time it takes us to read, and understand, a blog post, sales letter or whatever we’re reading, the more likely we are to remember it, and for it to have an impact.
If you understand the description of a product and its benefits, you’re more likely to buy it.
Finally, we come to “Passive Sentences.” I always aim for 0%. I don’t always make it, but I try.
Why do passive sentences matter? Well, for copywriting, the more “action oriented” the words are, the more likely people are to take the action you’re asking them to take.
“What is a passive sentence, anyway?” you ask.
I know, I hate this one too.
Basically, a sentence is written in the passive voice when the subject of a sentence has an action done to it by someone or something else. (FYI, that is a passive sentence.)
“John hit the ball.” Is an active sentence.
“The ball was hit by John.” Is a passive sentence.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid passive sentences. But I try to keep them to a minimum in my writing. I ended up at 5.5% for this post because of the two examples above.
“What If I Don’t Have Microsoft Word?”
I’m so glad you asked.
I know there are people out there who are violently opposed to Microsoft products. I personally only use their Office 365 for Mac these days.
I also know lots of people who prefer other word processing programs.
Fortunately, there are a few options.
I recommend the Hemingway App. It’s based on the writing style of Ernest Hemingway, who wrote very intense books in a very simple style.
The readability statistics are laid out in a different way. You see how hard individual sentences are to read, as opposed to counts. But it does the same thing in a different format.
I also like Readability Score. It gives you several readability statistics, including keyword density and sentiment analysis, which is pretty cool.
What’s Your Favorite Tool?
Do you have a tool, similar to this one, that you use all the time to improve your marketing? Tell me about it in the comments.