Blogs Written at a 5th Grade Reading Level are Better?

9 Apr

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Surprisingly, blogs (or any of your marketing materials) that are written at lower grade reading levels typically get the most attention. I’m failing. My last three blogs were written at 8th, 9th and 9th grade reading levels. This article is written at an 8th grade level. I’m striving for a 7th grade reading level.

The Wall Street Journal is written at an 8th grade level. My local paper, the Star Tribune (and probably most newspapers), is written at a 5th grade level. Hemingway wrote at a 4th grade reading level and Leo Tolstoy wrote at a 7th grade level. The Affordable Care Act is written at a college reading level! 

4 reasons why I think blogs written at lower levels succeed:

1. Your entire audience can’t read at a 7th grade reading level. 

There’s a book called What Makes a Book Readable that cites:

  • 1/3 of adults read at a 2nd-6th grade reading level
  • 1/3 of adults read at a 7th-12th grade reading level
  • 1/3 of adults read at college levels

If you write at a lower level, everyone obviously has a better chance at being able to understand it.

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2. Even the smart people need new material dumbed down a bit.

Learning Solutions magazine says that we forget 50% of what we learn within an hour. The more complicated, the more likely we are to forget. Humans require immediate comprehension of the material to increase our chances of retaining the information; when reading an article, we are often reading about topics that we don’t know a lot about.

3333. We want it quick and fast. 

In the internet age, things get skimmed, not read. The most popular blogs are one of two types: Lists and How-to’s. The most attention any of my 100+ blogs have ever received was a recent post I did on the Top 50 Largest LinkedIn Groups (Largest Groups on LinkedIn). Lists are simple – and how-to’s tend to be quick lessons that can immediately be applied. It has been found that on screens, we read faster and consequently, understand less.

44444. Reading has changed.

With the younger generation clamoring to YouTube and Facebook for “news” and information – and communicating through short texts and emojis, the demographics have shifted to suit our shorter attention spans. As a writer or blogger, you should embrace this change versus fighting it. If you want to write the next Moby Dick, go for it! But recognize that half of your audience CANNOT comprehend it (granted, it is probably much better material than your average blog).

What is the ideal grade level for your writing? 

The answer is dependent upon your audience, but my overall point of this blog is that it is probably a few grades lower than what you think. A few suggestions for “improving” your score include keeping your paragraphs and sentences short, avoiding complicated and unnecessary words and breaking up your content. And a few pictures and bulleted lists go a long way in keeping the reader’s attention.

There is a measurement called the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Reading Formula to determine the level of any piece of writing. It was first published in 1948 and it relies on the structure of the English language taking sentence and word length into consideration in order to determine readability.

How to figure out the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level:

  • If you are a user of Microsoft Word, go to the Review option at the top of the screen and Check Document.
  • This will give corrections (like spelling, as you probably know) and other refinements; after running through those, the Readability Statistics window will pop up.
  • Listed are the word counts and averages as well as the readability score which shows the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of your document. This will pop up after you run through the suggested corrections and refinements.
  • If you aren’t a Word user, you can also go to this site to measure the documents readability: https://readable.com/
  • Here is another site for editing lengthy and complex sentences: http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
  • Lastly, there are a few other formulas if you’d like to try them out: the Gunning-Fog Score, the Coleman-Liau Index and the Dale-Chall Formula.

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Now, my title is a bit deceiving… I don’t think 5th grade level blogs are “better”. But if our end goal is to garner attention and educate, we need to be thinking of our audience and cater to them. I personally need to do a better job of making it easier to read my material. It’s not about dumbing it down but rather making your point clearer and more concise.

It’s time to grow faster~ Drew Schmitz

drew@blueoctopusllc.com

blueoctopusllc.com

 

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