10 October 2023
What is readability and why does it matter?
Readability refers to the ease with which a piece of writing can be understood by its intended audience. It involves assessing factors like sentence structure, word choice, and overall complexity to ensure that the content is clear, accessible, and effectively conveys its message. This is distinct from legibility (also key in marketing communications) which concerns how well the visual characteristics of the text can be recognized by the reader.
1. More effective marketing messaging
2. Meet increasingly stringent regulatory requirements
- When communicating about the product, firms should consider the characteristics of the consumers within its target market and tailor communications to meet their information needs.
- For mass marketing products, firms should take into account research relating to poor or low levels of numeracy and literacy and communicate information in as simple a way as possible to support understanding for these customers.
- Firms should take particular care when communicating with consumers in vulnerable circumstances, taking account of their needs.
3. Tailor communications for vulnerable audiences
Using readability metrics
Using readability metrics within your organization
- Understand your audience and communication goals: For the most common types of marketing material you create, consider your audience’s age, education level and assumed prior knowledge. Work at the lowest common denominator. Add this information to each of your audience segments or create new segments if needed. Then consider what you need the audience to digest from your material: is it a simple message from some product marketing, or a detailed understanding of the implications of a health insurance policy? This will impact your approach to readability.
- Identify your legal obligations: Understand the regulatory requirements your marketing communications are subject to. Are they advisory, strongly recommended or mandatory? Are there different requirements for different jurisdictions or products? Create a process to comply with these obligations and ensure it is auditable. Be especially mindful of any regulations which impact how you communicate with vulnerable groups.
- Implement appropriate readability tools: There are several tools available to measure readability. Microsoft Word, for instance, offers a built-in Flesch-Kincaid score for entire documents. Additionally, tools like Red Marker provide reading age estimates using multiple readability metrics and highlighting sentences that may need attention.
- Iterate, retest, and audit: The process of enhancing readability is iterative. After making improvements to your content, retest its readability using the same metrics. Keep a record of these measurements for auditing purposes, ensuring that your communication consistently meets the desired readability standards.
Navigating Drawbacks to Readability Metrics
“Gaming” the score
Modifying critical legal disclosures
- Dimitris C Gkikas et al, How do text characteristics impact user engagement in social media posts: Modeling content readability, length, and hashtags number in Facebook, International Journal of Information Management Data Insights, Volume 2, Issue 1, 2022, 100067, ISSN 2667-0968, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jjimei.2022.100067.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667096822000118)
- Bianchi, C. and Andrews, L. (2018), “Consumer engagement with retail firms through social media: an empirical study in Chile”, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 46 No. 4, pp. 364-385. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJRDM-02-2017-0035
- Health Literacy Innovations LLC, National Survey of Medicaid Guidelines for Health Literacy, 2007 (link).
- United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority, FG22/5 Final non-Handbook Guidance for firms on the Consumer Duty, July 2022 (link) at 8.30 – 8.38.
- Eltorai AE, Ghanian S, Adams CA Jr, Born CT, Daniels AH., ‘Readability of Patient Education Materials on the American Association for Surgery of Trauma Website’, Arch Trauma Res. 2014 Apr 30;3(2):e18161. doi: 10.5812/atr.18161. PMID: 25147778; PMCID: PMC4139691 (link), citing Doak CC, Doak LG, Root JH. Teaching Patients with Low Literacy Skills. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott; 1996.
- Australian Government Style Manual, https://www.stylemanual.gov.au/accessible-and-inclusive-content/literacy-and-access#literacy_affects_access_to_government_services_and_informationaccessed 27 September 2023.
- National Literacy Trust, https://literacytrust.org.uk/parents-and-families/adult-literacy/what-do-adult-literacy-levels-mean/, accessed 27 September 2023.
- Most of the widely used tests such as Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning-Fog Index, Fry Method and SMOG method output grade scores based on the United States schooling system. Abid Ismail et al note that “there is a strong need to develop country specific grading mechanism with respect to readability.” (see Abid Ismail et al, Connect the dots: Accessibility, readability and site ranking – An investigation with reference to top ranked websites of Government of India, Journal of King Saud University – Computer and Information Sciences, Volume 31, Issue 4, 2019, Pages 528-540, ISSN 1319-1578, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jksuci.2017.05.007.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319157816301550)
- United Kingdom Financial Conduct Authority, FG22/5 Final non-Handbook Guidance for firms on the Consumer Duty, July 2022 (link) at 8.13, 8.16.