Editor’s Note: This is the final of a 3-part guest blog series by Seattle crisis communications consultant Wiley Brooks on how to improve your writing. Wiley blogs at WileyBrooks.com. He also offers a short online class for PR people to help you master writing clearly and concisely. Read the first and second part of Wiley’s guest post series.
So much of what we do in crisis communications is data driven that it shouldn’t be a stretch to accept that our writing should be data driven, too. But it is a stretch because most people think that writing is more art than science.
Well, think again.
In 1950, an Ivy League professor used math to predict how easily someone could read and understand a document. This is important to anyone in communications because the key messages we write must be easy to grasp. If not, they are useless.
Rudolf Flesch was the Einstein of writing. Trained first as a lawyer in his native Germany, he escaped the Nazis and made his way to New York, where he earned a Ph.D. in English at Columbia University, and then became a prominent professor there.
Flesch created, tested and published a mathematical algorithm that could be applied to any sentence or document. Doing the math would reliably predict how easy it would be for someone to understand what he had just read.
Or, to put it another way, doing the math would predict if what you had just drafted would be clear to the reader.
Flesch scores range from 0 and 100. The higher the score, the better. Remember the JFK “Ask not. . .” quote from Part 2? It scores a Flesch 100, which is one reason it is so easy for us to recall. Most daily newspapers score about a 50 on their news items, which is why you sometimes find yourself rereading a paragraph. Lawyers, who are almost always part of a crisis team, tend to write in the Flesch 20s and 30s.
And while doing a Flesch test is great for seeing if your key message is clear, you are wise to test everything you write. The fact is that great speeches, documents, even novels share high Flesch scores.
JFK’s entire “Ask not. . .” speech scored a 60. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address computes to a 64. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech a 66. You get the picture.
But wait, there’s more!
Another professor grabbed one Sunday’s list of 10 best-selling novels according to The New York Times and computed each book’s average Flesch score. On average, they scored an 83! Best-selling authors get it.
It’s easy – and free – to test everything you write. Go to PRWritingClass.com and click on “Writing Tool”. Copy and paste what you wrote into the field, click “Get Results” and instantly see the score. Know before you tweet that your key message will actually work!
Editor’s note: Wiley offers a PR Writing Class that he created to help PR professionals write more clearly and concisely. He offers this 2-hour online class for $99. However, he has put together a special discount for the fabulous readers and followers of melissaagnescrisismanagement.com! Simply enter in the code Melissa812 at check-out and receive this class for just $79! Enroll in Wiley’s course today!