By Josie Finlay
A taste for Flesch (but not too much)
Since starting SCA I’ve noticed that I’m worse at reading long complicated pieces of text. It’s the curse of reading loads of books written by ruthless copywriters: they’re just so readable, aren’t they? Now I feel it’s a pretty big ask to expect me to read something that doesn’t have a line break at least every four lines. Or a sentence that would require taking a breath before reading it out loud. Think I’ll even SKIM anything that’s not typeset in Futura? Dream on!
But it doesn’t come naturally for me to practise what I’ve just preached. I’ve got a big old textual hangover from the days of my English degree, and the days of being an annoyingly eloquent little show-off as a child. So I often find I have to make an extra effort to pare back my own writing. Actually, I’ll let you in on a secret: the original first line of this scab was:
‘Since starting SCA I’ve noticed my tolerance to reading complicated pieces of writing gradually diminish.’
That’s the line that came naturally, and reading it back makes me cringe a bit – it looks really pretentious. I wouldn’t stick ‘tolerance’ and ‘diminish’ into one sentence if I was talking, so why do I automatically do it when I’m writing? It only takes a quick run of my uni dissertation through the Flesch Reading Ease test to see why. Stuffed with phallocentrics, preternaturallys, multisensorials and unsublimateds, it gets a measly score of 27 – that means it’s classed as ‘very difficult to read’. This was the kind of writing that I’d been trained to aim for throughout my whole education, so it’s not really surprising that I tend to reach for long, ‘clever’ words when I’m meant to be writing good.
We learned about the Flesch test this week from the brilliant Andy Maslen, whose copywriting advice was almost as fabulous as his purple paisley shirt. Basically, the randomer reading your ad cares less about the ad than they do about the paper cut I got this morning. So there’s no reason for them to make the effort of wading through your preternaturally unsublimated, multisensorial prose. Having a good readability score takes you one step closer to getting in their brains. The paper cut feels much better, thank you.
But although we’re all about keeping it simple, I think it’s a shame to completely Marie Kondo all your copy. I know a lot of people in advertising belong to the school of
Writing like this.
With lots of line breaks.
Really easy to read. And pithy.
So pithy it hurts.
It can be cool, but it doesn’t suit me. And when everyone does it, it’s boring.
Marc has started putting a Flesch score at the bottom of every SCAB, and while there’s a lot to be said for that – we are ultimately aiming to write for ‘the man on the street’ – I’d be sad to see everyone completely pithifying their work, especially their SCABs. When they’re used right, long flowery words can sometimes be really delicious. Nigella Lawson comes to mind, with her made-up words like ‘plumptious’. I’m not sure Mr Flesch would approve of that. Plumptious Flesch, mmm.
I bet this SCAB will score badly on the Flesch scale, but I hope you still found it readable.
The copy scores 69.8 in the Flesch Reading Ease test