The little-known tool that will help you improve your writing, today.

The Flesch-Kincaid scale. Hands up, my writerly friends, if you’ve never heard of it. And don’t sweat it if you haven’t; I hadn’t either until a few months ago when it was discussed in one of the many copywriting groups I stalk on Facebook.

I’ve since spoken to a couple of fellow content creators who hadn’t heard of it either so, generous soul that I am, I’m going to give you a quick overview so you can start using it to improve your writing, today.

So, what is the Flesch-Kincaid scale?

It’s essentially a readability calculator, based on some complicated mathematical shenanigans that go way over my head. All I need to know, and all you need to know, is that it can grade your writing, letting you know whether you’ve hit the right level of readability for your intended audience.

Where do I find the F-K scale?

If you’re creating a word document, it’s easy to set up the F-K grading. Open your Spelling and Grammar checker, click on ‘options’ and enable the ‘show readability statistics’ option. Now, after you’ve worked your way through your spelling and grammar check, you’ll be presented with your document’s readability stats. At the top, you’ll see your word count and the number of paragraphs and sentences in your document. Right at the bottom of the box, you’ll find your Flesch-Kincaid grade level.

How does it grade your writing?

As I say, there are all sorts of equations going on in the background as your grading level is calculated, but here are some of the main things to think about:

The number of sentences in your paragraphs.

For an improved readability score you want to avoid filling your writing with excessively long paragraphs. Never-ending chunks of text are hard to read and do tend to put people off. Generally speaking, it’s best to stick to two or three sentences per paragraph.

The number of words in your sentences.

Rambling sentences can work but more often than not, the longer the sentence, the higher the risk that you’ll lose clarity. For a clearer message, try to keep your sentences a bit shorter — around 20 words per sentence tends to be about right. That said, if you don’t want your readers to fall asleep halfway through your post, it’s a good idea to vary the lengths of your sentences.

The number of passive sentences.

I’m going to save a big discussion of passive and active voices for another day but here’s a quick example:

“I read the book” is the active voice.

“The book was read by me” is the passive voice.

There are times when the passive voice is the right way to go but generally, you want to avoid having too many passive sentences in your writing.

(As ever, Grammar Girl is the go-to site for these linguistic debates and here’s her take on the passive voice:

What grade should you aim for?

If I had a pound for every time I answered a content-related question with this response…

It depends on your audience.

I primarily write for Joe Average — my clients employ me to write clear, concise content, which will appeal to a wide range of people with different backgrounds and education. Even those who read at a high level prefer an easier read when they’re consuming blog posts in their lunch hour or surfing websites to find a new accountant or designer.

With that in mind, I aim for a grading level of anywhere between 7.0 and 8.5. Anything lower is too minimal and could sound patronising or over-simplified. Anything above an 8.5 is straying into the territory of academic, medical or legal writing, which, most of the time, simply wouldn’t suit my intended audience.

There you have it, a quick rundown of the Flesch-Kincaid grading scale. Fellow writers, I’d love to know whether you’re already using this tool or whether you think you’ll try it after reading this. Leave me a comment to let me know how you get on.

(In case anyone is wondering, I scored a 7.7 for this post!)

Read some more super simple tips for improving your content here

How to simplify your marketing copy volume 2

There’s a red pen in here somewhere…



Hopefully after last week’s post, you’ve had a look through your writing and taken a big, red pen to any superfluous words.

This time, I’m not highlighting errors as such, but easy ways to simplify the language you use in your marketing copy.

Many of us have a tendency to make everything  more long winded than it needs to be – I confess I’ve fallen into that trap myself many times in the past!

We think it makes us sound more intelligent, or our writing more impressive. It doesn’t. If anything, it can make us sound pretentious and it lessens the impact of the message we’re trying to convey. And that’s when our readers (or rather, our customers) switch off.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

‘Investigators arrived at the conclusion…’ instead of ‘Investigators concluded…’

Option 1 adds to your word count and makes you sound more wordy, more intelligent, right?


Your high school English teacher didn’t fall for that tactic and your customers won’t either.

Here are a few examples of how to keep things simple for greater impact.

‘at the present time’ replace with ‘now’

‘a large percentage of‘ replace with ‘many

‘by virtue of the fact that‘ replace with ‘because’

‘in spite of the fact that’ replace with ‘despite’

owing to the fact that’ replace with ‘because’

‘in the event that’ replace with ‘if’

‘prior to’ replace with ‘before’

You get the idea.

Always remember, if the word doesn’t add anything to the meaning of your sentence, give it the chop.

And if you don’t have the time to do it yourself, or you just don’t know where to start, give me a shout. I live for this stuff!


How to simplify your marketing copy volume 1

I wonder sometimes if my clients are taken aback when they receive their first draft of concise copy.  When you’re paying for something, you want as much for your money as you can get, right?

Not necessarily.

When it comes to copy, less really is more. Regular readers will have sussed that this is my golden rule.

In the interest of keeping things brief, I’d like to share this quick tip.

Checking for superfluous words is almost as important as your spelling and grammar checks.

Many of you probably don’t even notice these redundant and annoying little words creeping their way across articles, web copy and brochures but trust me,  they are there. And they need to be dealt with! They add unnecessary bulk to otherwise snappy and elegant prose and I have to admit, they always make me picture the writer as a bored undergrad. Anyone else remember being stuck at your desk,  unable to go to the pub until you’d reached the minimum word count on your essay?

Well, we’re not students any more, and the aim of the game is to get your message across in as few words as possible!

So what kind of thing am I talking about?

Here are some offenders I’ve noticed recently.

‘At the moment we are currently trying to tackle the problem

I nearly drove into a ditch the other day when I heard someone on the radio utter this. BBC Radio 2 no less!

What’s the problem? ‘Currently’ means ‘at the moment’ – there is simply no need for both of these expressions. To be all technical about it, it just sounds daft.

‘They returned back to the restaurant’.

This was spotted on a kiddie activity book at Pizza Hut.  ‘To return’ means ‘to go back’ – the ‘back’ here is redundant. It needs to go!

‘The companies merged together’

This one’s obvious right? ‘To merge’ is to come ‘together’, once again we have a word that adds nothing to the meaning or style of the sentence other than length and as we know, brevity is the Holy Grail here.

So when you’re finalising any piece of marketing driven writing, liberate the pruning shears and get to work. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how smooth your prose can become if you do some swift dead-heading before you hit publish.

For more pruning tips, keep an eye out for vol 2.

Want to know how to write an article that people want to share?


What makes a great article?

It’s not just an article that people want to read; it’s an article that people want their friends to read; a post that they’ll share on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.

Anyone (well, almost anyone!) can string a few sentences together but to actually engage your audience is a little more complicated. The following tips will help you get started, whether you are submitting test pieces to magazines you’d love to write for, have a journalistic deadline looming or simply want to get your new blog off to a great start.

1.Choose your subject wisely – get chatting.

It should be a given but many writers seem to ignore this vital piece of the puzzle. If you have free reign over the subject matter you’re lucky. Write about what interests you – your enthusiasm will shine through and you’ll find yourself happily typing away rather than looking for any distraction to drag you away from your desk.

If you are writing for a particular publication, you may be somewhat restricted on what you can write about. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative though.

My top tip here is to visit a few online chat rooms or forums relating to your topic.

I know, I know, I should be telling you to avoid chatting online; just get your bum in gear and start writing! However, chat rooms can provide a wealth of ideas. What are people currently talking about in your chosen sphere of interest? What are the hot topics? Are there any new controversies or is there a particular line of questioning that keeps cropping up?

For example, when I was blogging about birds, I discovered that people were frequently talking about how to avoid birds flying into their windows. It became clear that advice on how to prevent this was something that would interest a lot of folks. When I was writing about veganism, one subject that kept appearing in groups and chat rooms was the question of vegan role models so I did a bit of digging around and dedicated an article to that topic. Because I had tapped into a current trend, my article was shared widely and prompted many more discussions.

That said, if people are talking about it, it’s likely that you’re not the only writer lurking who has grabbed onto the same subject matter. It’s important to put your own spin on things. No one will read your article if there are already 20 identical pieces floating about. Find an angle that hasn’t been covered and make it personal to you.

2.What’s in a name? Choose your title wisely.

You have probably about 5 seconds (if that!) to convince someone to click on your link. So give your article a damn good title. Questions are always good; you’ve got your reader formulating their own answer to the question before they’ve even read your piece. And they want to know if your answer matches theirs!

A controversial title can work in your favour too but only if it’s actually relevant to the body of the text.

3.Be flexible.

As you delve further into your subject matter, be prepared for your opinion to change. Before you even put pen to paper you probably had a good idea where you were headed with your article. You may even have had a conclusion formulated in your mind. If that’s where you end up, then fine. But sometimes the best articles are the ones where your readers join you on your journey and you end up somewhere completely unexpected by the time you finish typing. As long as the journey is cohesive and easy enough for your reader to follow, this is not a problem. And be sure to write down any unexpected thoughts that pop into your mind as you work your way to your conclusion – these could well be fodder for related articles further down the line.


4.You’re boring me now.

Don’t go on for too long or you’ve completely lost your audience. Keep it to the point and no longer than strictly necessary.


On that note…




Grammar and copywriting: why it’s okay to break the rules.

‘I don’t know the rules of grammar…If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.’

David Ogilvy.


I absolutely love this quote because it really made me stop and evaluate the very nature of the copywriting business.

In trying to determine whether I agreed with this Ogilvy statement, I was brought back to the very essence of good copywriting: knowing your audience.

I can be a bit of a grammar geek. Someone uttering  ‘I seen’ gives me shivers – not in a good way. And I’m sure you’ve all heard me wax lyrical about the misuse of the word ‘literally’.

So here’s the bit where you’ll be surprised. Good grammar isn’t always essential to good copywriting. In fact, sometimes it’s downright damaging! Sometimes you gotta break the rules.

Say what??!!

Yup, I’ve said it and I’ll stand by it. And here’s why.

It’s about the audience! I can’t stress this enough.

Dear Mr Ogilvy is right: you MUST consider who you’re writing for, who you’re selling to. Then write for them. How do they think? How do they speak? What kind of language will they relate to?

For some audiences perfect grammar and beautifully structured syntax will be a huge turn off. Constructions that are technically correct but that aren’t widely used today, will come across as patronising and fussy – and you’ve lost the game.

You mustn’t be pedantic;  copy is no place for that. Unless you’re selling an English course or tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.

Back to Ogilvy now: you’ll note from the above quote that this advertising giant wasn’t exactly uneducated.  He was clearly very well spoken and while he may not have officially learnt the rules of grammar, his writing suggests he had absorbed most of them somewhere along the line.

Does this invalidate his point? Do copywriters even need a good grasp of grammar?

You’re damned right we do!

As I’ve already said, the key to this, is knowing your audience and their expectations. There will be times when grammatically correct prose is exactly what is required. Imagine you’re looking for a lawyer – will you choose the guy whose website is badly written, full of slang and dodgy syntax or will you go for the one whose marketing comes across as intelligent, capable and even erring on the right side of pedantic? You’ll choose the latter every time because those are the qualities you’re looking for in a lawyer.

What’s the bottom line here?

It’s all about communication. Will your audience understand your message and more importantly will they agree with it? Will it persuade them to take action? Will it sell? The language you use will determine this.

So make sure you’re getting the balancing act right when you’re planning your marketing copy. Always keep your target audience at the forefront of your mind and write directly to them. But do brush up on your grammar when you have a spare minute. After all, it’s easier to break the rules if you actually know what they are in the first place!


Why great writing does not equal great copy.


I got my knickers in a right old twist there.

I was having a look through a completed project a couple of weeks ago and discovered the client had made a couple of changes. Gasp!

One of the sentences had become just a little bit longer. An extra couple of clauses had appeared as if from nowhere. A word or two had been deleted and exchanged for synonyms with a few more syllables. Nothing major but…

It annoyed me and I’ll tell you why.

Yes, I can write the sentence of a hundred clauses and make it sound elegant. Yes, I know big fancy words. But I don’t often use them. For a good reason:

great writing doesn’t always make great copy.

Let me show you what I mean.

Using complex words.

Unless you’re selling a specialist product or you have a very niche market, keep your vocabulary simple. You want to be as inclusive as possible and by using obscure, complicated or ‘academic’ words and phrases, you’re automatically alienating some of your potential audience.

That’s bad copywriting.


Ditto complex sentence structure.

The more complicated the sentence, the greater the chance you’ll screw it up. We’ve all done it. However, even if you’re a linguistic genius and every sentence is word perfect, longer STILL isn’t better. Your long, convoluted sentence has just bored your reader and they’ve clicked on to something else.

That’s bad copywriting.


Never-ending paragraphs.

All audiences are not created equal. Your magazine reader, who’s just settled down on the train for the daily commute could be considered a captive audience (although, don’t forget your ad is competing with every other ad, article and picture in the magazine) and may be happy to read loads of text. Your internet user is not. She is pushed for time, bombarded with information and just looking for a reason to click ‘close’. Your beautifully written but long paragraphs and text heavy pages have just given her that reason.

That’s bad copywriting.


So when you’re writing your own copy, try not to fall into these traps. Remember that it takes more than great grammar and syntax to sell a product. Great writing does not always equal great copy.

Although it is a good place to start…