How do you know your copy is simple enough for everyone to read? You keep hearing people say: “You should keep your copy simple so that an 8th grader can understand it,” but you’re never told how to actually do that.
Most businesses I talk to just tell me they go off by what they think is the right word difficulty, but not a single one actually knew about a formula I showed them. So, what’s this formula all about?
At What Grade Level Should You Be Writing
You might be surprised, but best-selling books are written for the 8th to 10th grade level. This might not come as a shock because best-selling books are read by people from all walks of life. But, when we go into more professional content, we see a different pattern. Time, Wall Street Journal and the BusinessWeek are at the 11th grade level.
In fact, most of the average American audience reads between 11th grade and 12th grade level. Is this where you should be writing? Yes, no, and maybe. Well, that actually depends on your audience and what you’re selling. Down below, I’m going to run my own copy into the formula to determine what my copy’s grade school level is so you see this in action first hand. Then, you can take your own copy, run it through the formula, and determine if that’s the right voice for your audience. So without further ado, here’s the formula.
Before revealing the formula, I just want to credit this information to Joseph Sugarman, a legendary copywriter who I learned this from. The formula is called the Fog Index and it was created by Robert Gunning to help newspaper writers avoid so-called foggy writing. It helped them determine for themselves the grade level of the copy they were writing. Exactly what you’ll be able to do after reading this post.
IMPORTANT: You won’t have to manually follow these steps and rate your copy, there are online calculators that do this for you (which I’ll show you). The purpose of these steps is just for you to understand how the process works.
Here are the steps for determining the Fog Index:
- Take a sample of your copy – start with 100 to 125 words from the very beginning of your ad
- Count the words in each sentence. Dates and numbers equal one word and independent clauses count as separate sentences (e.g., “We studied, and we learned” would be two sentences)
- Divide the total number of words by the number of sentences to get the average sentence length
- Count the number of long words (those of three or more syllables), but:
- Do not count short-word combinations like pawnbroker or yellowtail
- Do not include proper names
- Do not include verbs that have become three syllables by adding ed or es.
- Divide the number of long words by the total number of words in the selection to get the percentage of long words.
- Add the average sentence length to the percentage of long words.
- Multiply this total by 0.4 to get the grade level
Now, as I just mentioned above, you won’t have to do this manually. This is just for you to understand exactly how the process works and how it calculates it. You could do it a couple of times yourself to get a feel of it, or you can simply use an online tool that does all the groundwork for you.
Use This Free Online Tool
This is a great comprehension checker that I personally use and recommend all my clients use to determine copy grade level. It gives you a lot of flexibility because it allows you to sample anywhere between 150 to 3000 words.
It also runs 6 test from different comprehension methods, one of which is the Fog Index. I’m going to reveal to you the tool right now so you can use it for your own copy to determine the copy level.
I recommend you use this and simply paste your copy text into the box. You have the directions and everything on the website, but let’s now take it a step further. We’ll take a look at my LinkedIn description to see how well it rates on the Readability Test.
Keep in mind, my LinkedIn description might change in the future. However, it’s a good snippet in time.
So, after putting in my copy in the Readability Test tool, I got a score of 10, meaning that my copy is suitable for 10th graders. This is a relatively good score given my audience of entrepreneurs, and it also fits the general American population. There’s a wide range of levels when it comes to business men and women, with people who have no schooling to PhD’s.
If, for instance, I was a company targeting lawyers or doctors, I’d use a more sophisticated language surpassing 12th grade average, probably going into 14’s and up. But, if I was selling a simple product that I want reach a wide audience, I’d have to adjust my copy to suite somewhere between 6th and 8th grade. You get the point.
How Does Your Copy Score?
Now it’s time for you to take a piece of copy from your website (homepage, about me page, landing page…) and test it in the tool. Then, leave a comment in the section below sharing:
- What did you expect your result to be coming in?
- What do you think your score should be based on your audience?
- What was your actual score?
- How are you going to improve your copy with this new information?
I’m looking forward to seeing your results. If you have any questions, comment down below, or reach out to me directly!