Writing must be readable. This press release is filled with management-speak that says nothing. The fix: shorter sentences, simpler language.
Every now and then I see writing so bad, I recoil. Last week UN Women launched a new campaign and the press release was a jargon-filled, meaningless, management-speak mess.
“Galvanize momentum”? Check. “Instruments of change”? Check. “Interventions for scalability”? Check.
Just how bad is it?
Whenever I write I check how “readable” my writing is. I ran the first paragraph of the press release through Word’s readability checker. It came up with something I’d never seen before: the “Reading Ease” score was 0.0. On a scale of 0-100 that’s the worst it gets.
Here’s the offending text:
At the World Economic Forum in Davos today, UN Women and Emma Watson unveiled a new initiative — 10X10X10 — to cut gender inequality and empower women in communities where it’s most needed. 10X10X10 is a part of theAt the World Economic Forum in Davos today, UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment unveiled the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative to galvanize momentum in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. The HeForShe campaign’s IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative is a one-year pilot effort that aims to engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality and that have the greatest capacity to make and influence those changes. Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions for scalability.
If you made it through that — congratulations. It’s horrible. I ran the text through another readability tool.
The results weren’t pretty
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: -1.8
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 22.8
No. of words: 112
No. of complex words: 32
Percent of complex words: 28.57%
Average words per sentence: 37.33
Let’s consider these numbers.
- It gets a negative readability score
- More than one in four words is complex
- The sentences are almost 40 words long
Text that scores below 30 on the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease scale is considered readable only by college graduates. I’m not sure who is comfortable reading text with a score of -1.8. People with a PhD?
The two minute edit
I had a go at simplifying the writing. No new information. No important information lost.
Here’s how it looked
At the World Economic Forum in Davos today, UN Women unveiled a new initiative — 10X10X10 — to cut gender inequality and empower women in communities where it’s most needed. 10X10X10 is a part of the HeForShe campaign and will work with governments, businesses, and universities to test new ways to reduce gender inequality. The initiative will run for one year. HeForShe will expand successful projects to other communities.
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: 39.7 (original -1.8)
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 12.0 (22.8)
No. of words: 69 (112)
No. of complex words: 14 (32)
Percent of complex words: 20.29% (28.57%)
Average words per sentence: 17.25 (37.33)
I’ve said the same thing. I managed to do it using half the words. 40 word sentences become 17 word sentences. Anyone who has completed high school should understand it.
Don’t make your audience feel stupid.
— Drew Westen
If I was a reporter I would have binned the press release immediately.
Before you publish anything, always check to see how readable your text is. If it scores below 30 on Reading Ease you should edit. Aiming for 60 is better. Here are three things that will help you immediately:
- Use a thesaurus and replace big words with smaller ones;
- Avoid jargon;
- Write shorter sentences;
- Bonus: Avoid passive voice.
If Emma Watson is willing to launch the campaign you’re lucky. Celebrities attract attention. It doesn’t excuse lazy writing.
Don’t make your reader recoil.