Three ways to check your content is clear

14 Sep

Here are three simple tests to check if your audience will easily understand what you’ve written … or not.

  • Test a gapped text on a sample group

This is the best way. You could give them the full text and ask if they understood it … but they might say yes even if they didn’t. You don’t want them to be the judges. So use a few samples of gapped text instead. Instructions follow.

  • Use two readability tests

There are 2 quick and dirty tests you can use in Microsoft Word or Outlook. The Flesch Reading Ease Test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test give a readability rating based on the number of characters in a word and the number of words in a sentence.

They are basic measurements of readability – rather than comprehensibility. But they are successfully used by organisations who produce a lot of small print.

How to use gapped texts

You need a sample group from your audience and several excerpts from your content.

1. Delete every 6th word in the text excerpts

2. Ask your sample group to read them and fill in the missing words

3. Find the average percentage of words they guessed correctly

If they got 60% or more right, then the text is reasonably comprehensible. This estimate comes from Jakob Nielsen, an expert in web usability.

Here’s an example from Apple’s online support pages. Try guessing the missing words.

How to set up your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch as a new device

In some cases you may (1) ______ to erase all data on (2) ______ iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, (3) ______ set it up as a (4) ______ device (for example, after purchasing (5) ______ new device, you may decide (6) ______ give the previous device to (7) ______ family member, friend, or another (8) ______ for their use).

Follow the (9) ______ in this article to erase  (10) ______ content on your device and  (11) ______ it up as if it  (12) ______ a new device.

Did you get them all? Answers at the end of this post.

If you got 7 words right, the text is reasonably easy for you to understand.

How to use readability tests

They’re in Word and Outlook under spelling and grammar. Check the box saying ‘enable readability statistics’ or similar and you get the results at the end of the spell check.

The reading ease test gives a score out of 100. Between 60 and 70 is recommended for a general audience. The grade level test compares your text to a US high school reading level. Nielsen recommends 8th grade for a broad consumer audience.

A longer excerpt from the Apple support pages scores 66.7 for reading ease and 7.7 for grade level. If you look at the readability rating and your score from the gapped text exercise, you’ll get a good idea whether the text is clear enough for the target audience.

Here are the answers from the gapped text
1 want, 2 your, 3 and, 4 new, 5 a, 6 to, 7 a, 8 person, 9 steps, 10 all, 11 set, 12 were

Contact me if you want an assessment of how clear your content is, or a rewrite to improve readability and clarity.


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