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Writing with style and substance

Ever re-read something you’ve written and thought: ‘What was I trying to say?’ You’re not alone. Writing can always be improved. Simplify the style, keep sentences short and try the Flesch-Kincaid index. 44’s Lauren Hain explains…

Here at 44, we’ve been testing one method of measuring quality when it comes to the written word. The Flesch-Kincaid index may sound like a medicinal skin-care product, but it’s actually a formula modified by the US Navy in the 1970s which scores your writing for readability.

The score is calculated based on the number of words, syllables and sentences used, giving you an idea of whether your article’s more Hairy Maclary or Harvard Law Review. For example, a score of more than 100 is suitable for a reading age of 10, while Shakespeare’s works would score 40.

Rating your work makes you think about every word, cleansing it of jargon. If you’re writing for a specific reading age, it can clear up any second-guessing about legibility.

However, it’s not entirely foolproof. If you’re writing for an industry with specific and lengthy terminology, you might come unstuck. Words like ‘infrastructure’ could be hard to break down and still keep the essential meaning.

So, while it’s by no means a go-to remedy, or a guide to help you write a modern-day Ulysses for children, it can definitely clean away some of that brain fog that comes from staring at a screen for hours.

If you’ve not used the index before, give it a try the next time you’re struggling for clarity. And if you’re interested, this piece scored 60, which puts it into Wall Street Journal territory.

Try it yourself in Microsoft Word. Go to File, Options, Proofing, tick ‘Show readability statistics’ and then do a Spelling and Grammar check.

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