Readability in B2B content: does your Flesch-Kincaid grade matter?

Readability can separate successful content from the mountain of unread marketing bumf. By asking your writers to put their copy through a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, you can ensure your content is clear, concise and readable.

Readability in B2B content: does your Flesch-Kincaid grade matter?

Rules get a bad rap. Often seen as restrictive at best and pointless busy-work at worst, you may be loath to give your writer strict rules to follow when you set them off on a new campaign. After all, they’re probably already following several tone, messaging and format guidelines.

It’s easy to assume more rules mean more creative restrictions. But there is one framework you might want to consider adding to the mix; one that arguably makes copy punchier and more readable.

The Flesch-Kincaid grade score gives you a quick way to assess the complexity of any piece of B2B copy. To prove how effective it can be in keeping writing clear and simple, I’ll be writing each section of this blog at a different Flesh-Kincaid grade level, so you have a practical example of how it all looks.

A pound of Flesch-Kincaid (F-K grade 13)

Devised by scientists Rudolph Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid, the Flesch-Kincaid (F-K) grade level is one of two tests devised to assess the complexity of a piece of writing. Commissioned by the US Navy to help benchmark the difficulty of technical training manuals, the F-K grade level uses a formula based on the average number of syllables per word, and words per sentence to offer a number that represents what grade of education you would require to understand the content. The lower the number, the easier it is to read.

Let’s take a jargon-tastic tech cliché as an example: “In today’s challenging economic climate, only cloud computing can help companies achieve meaningful competitive advantage.” That would score a significant F-K grade level of 17 – meaning only people educated up to grade 17 in the US (we’re talking well into higher education here) will understand it fully.

(These last two paragraphs score an F-K grade level of 13. That’s roughly double the UK’s average reading age.)

Why use it in B2B? (F-K grade 9.4)

No matter who your audience is, readability is important.

Even if you write for smart, educated businesspeople, no one has ever complained that something was too easy to read. In fact, even the smartest among us might give up if a piece of writing creates a large cognitive load.

It’s especially important if your content might be read on a mobile device, which is already difficult enough.

And if you write for an international audience? Readability is essential for those who might use English as a second language. Even a single extra point on the F-K grade level could mean the difference between your marketing being enjoyed or endured by your reader.

(These four paragraphs scored a F-K grade level of 9.4. It would be understood by a 15-year-old, but it’s still more complex than a broadsheet newspaper.)

But what about more technical topics? (F-K grade 6.2)

It can be hard to keep a low F-K grade when writing about technical topics. After all, a single technical term might have many syllables, adding to your score.

But there are two ways you or your writers can work around this:

  1. Use abbreviations when you can
  2. Make the rest of the copy easy to read

Even if the few mentions of your topic raise your F-K grade, you can offset this by making the rest of your copy short and easy-to-read. Just tell your creatives to think of it like a puzzle.

(The text in this section has a F-K grade level of 6.2. It would be understood by an 11-year-old.)

But aren’t my writers already writing clearly? (F-K grade 5.5)

Maybe. But it doesn’t hurt to check.

Also, even with very good writers, it can be hard to write at a consistent F-K grade level. Especially if they’re writing in a voice that isn’t natural for them.

Clarity and simplicity aren’t always the same thing. Even if you have a good writer that always produces clear, concise copy, it could still be complex and hard to read.

And with lots of free F-K grade checks available online, it’s quick and easy to assess your content.

(The paragraphs in this section have a combined F-K grade score of 5.5. This is around the UK’s average reading age.)

F-K grades: a valuable tool in your marketing shed

Like any tool, there’s a time and a place to reach for the F-K grades.

When you’re putting out a data sheet or technical white paper? Maybe just let your writers have free rein. Breaking into a new market, or writing something for the top of the funnel that needs to be easily understood? It can’t hurt to ask your writer to pass the copy through an F-K grade assessment tool to make sure it’s clear and concise.

Just remember: it’s a guide, not an absolute.

Further reading…

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