Credit Union Geek

Marketing, Strategy, and The Force by Joe Winn

Tag: reading ease

It’s Not You. It’s My Line Width.

Originally published on CUInsight.com

Far be it for me to dictate your relationship with your favorite word processor. Go on, keep your margins at the safe 1 inch.

It’s not as if you’re putting text there anyway. Leave line spacing at double. Since you always seem to need the room.

Ignore the footer field, like you always do! Content at the bottom has feelings, too!

Reading Without Tiring

Well, that got out of hand. On the upside, when was the last time page formatting related to relationships?

Woman Reading on Phone at Coffee Shop

Have you ever read content (online or print) and felt tired by the end? It’s because you need to start exercising. Exercising your use of ideal line widths.

The premise of reading, from a biological perspective, is fascinating. Our brains see each character as a picture, which it associates with those surrounding it (left to right or right to left, depending on your heritage), then interprets that as a word/number/sentence. Incredible!

I don’t need to tell you how quickly this process occurs, since you’re reading without thinking about the shape of every letter.

Doing so is tiring. Your eyes and brain need a break, even if it is shorter than your last “vacation day” (you call that a day off?). The pauses come as you change lines. Think of the last exhausting thing you read. I’d bet the lines were quite long.

Holding Open Book

Researchers at the Baymard Institute learned our focus is best when you write within an ideal line width. The golden range? Between 50-75 characters, including spaces, on each line. They found your “subconscious is energized when jumping to the next line.”

In plain English: You get bored, tired, and otherwise distracted if you cannot be entertained by the mundane process of…WOW, A NEW LINE!

Line Width For Entertainment & All Possible Devices

Man on Tablet with Coffee

With readers viewing your content on any number of screen shapes and sizes, adopting a design which adapts is key. If you find the width cannot be reduced, there is another option: Line spacing.

Remember in school how you double-spaced that paper to hit the 2-page requirement? Turns out, you were right all along. This blog uses approximately a 1.5 line spacing setting to enhance readability coupled with a large font.

It’s your writing. Get it read! Pride aside, ask your marketing team how well a campaign runs if what you produce isn’t perused?

Note: Reading from credituniongeek.com, line width is less than 80 characters.

For further reference: http://baymard.com/blog/line-length-readability

No One Understands What You Write: Reading Levels & Their Importance. [Updated]

Updated 1/23/19: Link to The Financial Brand study on grade level and readability of banking sites. Clearer explanations and simplified design. I also expanded upon the discussion topics to bring it home.

Kids Understand the Darnedest Things

We’re back on topic, with reading levels. Last time, we discussed what can be gained by writing in a fashion that everyone can understand (hint: a lot). Today, we are going to learn how to measure our writing, at what level we should aim, and why even bother.

Reading Levels: How to Measure?

There are many reading measurements, and each gives its answer as a number. With complex names such as “Raygor Estimate Graph, Flesch Reading Ease, and Spache Formula,” they sound pretty daunting. We’re not going to worry about their details. Just be aware they exist and can help us decide if others will understand what we wrote. So what do they measure? Each is different. They take into account things like:

  • Word length
  • Syllables per word
  • Words per sentence
  • Word complexity
  • Repetition of words/phrases

Writing for Middle Schoolers. Wait, what Reading Level?

This may surprise you, but the average American enjoys content at a 7-8th grade reading level. Not only is satisfaction higher, they also tend to understand it best, too.

Grade level is not a reflection of intelligence. We can write simple ideas at a high grade level, and complex ones at a low level. The latter is harder. Our goal when writing is to be understood. So getting rid of all that jargon (industry-specific words) and unneeded complexity is good.

After I complete a blog post, I scan it with reading level calculators to see how close to my goal it is. And since I want you to understand what I’ve written, my goal is 6-8th grade. I also aim for a reading ease of 60 or above. That’s a math-y way of saying, “the stuff is easy to read”.

Remember, simple writing lets you get across complicated ideas, simply. Going over your reader’s head is just bad form, and people tend to not trust what they don’t understand. You, like me, are trying to build trust and engagement. Making people suspicious of my motives because my writing is ridiculously complex would be a pretty terrible idea.

Feel free to check any of this blog’s entries in one of the calculators. Then, take a look at the level popular news sources and books are written. Time aims for 9th grade. The New York Times, 10th. John Grisham, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and many other bestsellers write at a 7th grade reading level.

Why Care About Reading Levels?

Alongside the rapid development and implementation of newly-fostered ideas, which serve to educate and inform a willing industry populace, technology has offered a template with which we can communicate our desires, strategies, and results so as to generate a loftier goal for all.

In a nutshell, that sentence is why. And, be honest. You’ve seen (or written) something like it in your company strategy sessions. Saying something in long statements, with big words, designed to make you sound “smart”, helps no one. It’s not smart. Here’s that same sentence, brought down to Earth:

We all have great ideas, and technology has made sharing them with others so much easier. Our industry is better due to your contribution.

Which was easier to understand?

  • The grade level estimate of the first sentence is a whopping 23. Who here graduated 23rd grade? It’s considered graduate level content, but, having done that, I can say it’s far beyond. And why? Reading ease, where higher is better, and 60+ is a good aim, scored 8.4.
  • The modified segment offered a grade level of 7.8 and a reading ease of 60.7. It’s not just you, the second selection is mathematically simpler to understand.

Don’t Take My Word For It!

Keep this in mind when you’re drafting new content for your website, newsletters, and mailed content. I’m not the only one to say it, either. The Financial Brand wrote an article on reading levels in the banking industry.

Turns out, regular people (ie. your members and general public) don’t understand what financial institution marketers are saying. Using the same writing tools I mentioned here, they found most banks wrote way, way above people’s heads. This hurts your business. Not only because people can’t understand (and thus tune it out), but they now don’t trust you!

If your writing is too complex, it’s the same as wasting half (or more) of your mailings. The same goes for visits to your website. Continue your learning journey and embrace reading level calculators. Now, go forth and compose!

For reference, this post has a Flesch Reading Ease (higher is better and 60+ is ideal) of 71.6. It’s written at an average grade level of 7. That means 11-13 year olds can understand it. And so can your members.

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