Writing for an age. Simplicity and tone of voice

The national reading age in the UK as of typing this is 9 Years old. In effect, this means that the average reader online has the understanding of a 9-year-old. That’s Year 4 at school. If that figure is a surprising one to you, it may be worth considering the audience that may read your work.

Having written content for a variety of sites and companies with different audiences throughout my career, I have been in situations where this age targeting conflicts with the requirements to pass specific information to the reader. For example, the previous sentence alone scores a readability age of 11. This effectively means that over 50% of the population of the UK would have difficulty reading it.

How do you make content with a lower reading age

Generate copy with a lower reading age is a hard thing to quantify. Many things play a factor including; use of complex words, sentence length, punctuation and use of adverbs. I have had success whilst using our in house software packages, but it’s a good idea to have someone proofread your work and summarise it for you. I have found that if this activity is a lengthy one, then it is often worth attempting to simplify your work.

There are software packages that offer reading grade, reading time and advise on other grammatical best practice. This is invaluable when writing long for content.

How to pick your reading age target

Not every site needs to target the entire spectrum of age brackets.  It’s wise to target the lowest you can within your demographics though.

I have worked with many companies in the past that had a broad range of customer demographics. This meant that all content on the site should be understood by every customer that came to the site. This is not true for every site though. If your site has a customer base that has a fundamentally higher barrier to entry, then you may allow yourself to publish more complex content.

It is imperative though, that you only write the content as complex as it needs to be. Writing complex copy to target a more educated demographic is counterproductive. Not only will many of the people you are targeting find it tiresome, but you will also suffer from an SEO perspective. If readers click off of your site quickly, Google may determine your content to be unhelpful.

My advice on this matter is to create the content you wish. after this, put it through software to determine improvements that can be made to make it easier to read.

Technical Terms and reading age

I have been asked in the past about the impact of using Jargon. The terms themselves are not as important as you may think and it’s important to explain the concept completely. I have come across where acronyms were used without explaining what they stood for. This does not increase the reading age of the document, but using acronyms in this way can alienate readers

So where does this leave us?

The best way to ensure you are hitting an appropriate reading age is to run it through analasis software. These will tell you where you are currently, as well as highlight ways that you can lower it if you choose to do so. I always recomend lowering it because in reality, a lower reading age means you have kept it symple and cut to the core of your topic.

Realise what reading age you wish to hit. Although the average reading age in the country is 9, some technical sites may by their nature have to aim a little higher. Some services that need to be availible to everyone (food retailers, enegry companies etc) will benefit from a much lower reading age for there content.

Oh, and if you were wondering, this page comes in at a reading of age of 8 years old.

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