5 Ways to Craft Crisper Copy

Everything else being equal, you’d probably rather read a short piece than a long piece. So would your readers.

So, how long is too long?

Keep news releases to 200 words or less.

Reporters spend less than a minute reading a news release, according to Greentarget research. So why not write a one-minute news release?

People can read about 200 words a minute. So, a one-minute release would be about 200 words long.

Keep leads to 25 words or less.

“‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’” reminds John McIntyre, copy desk chief of the Baltimore Sun.

“The creation of the universe has a 10-word lead! So why do you need 40 words to say that your chief accountant has just completed the necessary certification? The answer, of course, is: You don’t.”


(The lead for this piece is 19 words.)

Keep paragraphs to a sentence or two.

People tend to read only the first two sentences of a paragraph, according to research by the Nielsen Norman group. The Poynter Institute found that people read more of a webpage with one- to two-sentence paragraphs.

Do you want people to read your paragraphs? Keep them to 1-2 sentences each.

(The paragraphs in this piece average 1.6 sentences.)

Keep sentences under 20 words.

The longer your sentence gets, the less your readers understand.

When sentences average eight words, for instance, comprehension hits 100%. When they average 44 words, comprehension dives below 10%.

Do you want people to understand your sentences? Keep them to fewer than 20 words.

(The sentences in this piece average 10.4 words.)

Keep words to five characters or less on average.

In the 130-year history of readability research, word length has been shown, again and again, to be the top predictor of readability. The shorter your words, the easier your message is to read.

So keep your words to five characters or less. I know you can do it, regardless of your topic. How do I know?

The New York Times does it every day, covering topics ranging from rocket science to brain surgery.
So does The Wall Street Journal, covering the most complicated machinations of business.
And so does the BBC, covering the world’s news.

If they can do it, then you can do it. And if you do it, then your readers will read your message faster, understand it better and enjoy reading it more.

(The words in this piece average 4.4 characters.)

Hit 60-70 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.

The Flesch Reading Ease is a scale of 0-100. It measures how easy your message is to read. The higher the number, the easier the read.

To make sure your message is easy to read, hit 60-70 or higher. If you don’t like your number, then it’s probably a problem with your sentence and word length.

Fix that, and you’ll reach more readers by making your message more readable.

(This piece hits 72.4 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale.)

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Don’t miss a single tip: Sign up for Ann’s email newsletter here.

Copyright © 2024 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

[Photo credit: microone]


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