You might impress peers with your extensive vocabulary, but here is how to capture attention when writing for a large audience.
Smarter than a 5th Grader
Each person has their own vocabulary and way of communicating. Much of this has to do with education, while local dialect also plays a part. In general, the grade level at which people are comfortable falls into three categories:
A third of the population reads between 2nd to 6th grade level. Another third reads between 7th and 12th. The final third reads above that. When writing for the widest possible audience, it is good to aim for the 5th grade level. But if you typically communicate at higher levels, how do you tone it down?
Simpler Vocabulary: Knowing uncommon words with just the right definition is a gift of education. However, a reader who is unfamiliar with the words you use will grow frustrated looking them up. This thins your audience.
Shorter Sentences: Run-on sentences may be grammatically correct, but most people can more easily follow thoughts within shorter phrases. Splitting up many long sentences can drop the reading level one or two grades.
Structure Sentences: Similar to shorter ones, sentences with extensive punctuation like semi-colons, dashes and comas contribute to complexity. This doesn’t mean that all sentences require identical formatting, but limit the use of complex ones.
Choose Appropriate Topic: An article about the periodic table of elements is a more complex subject than instructions for how to set the kitchen table. Don’t make table setting as complex as a table of elements.
Exercise Simpler Grammar
In the following examples, we phrase the same thought for different reading grade levels.
Grade 2: I’m going to set the table with the good silverware.
Grade 6: For this dinner, I will set the table with genuine silverware.
Grade 10: The silverware will impress dinner guests more than the daily flatware.
Grade 11: For this dinner, the superior silverware is more appropriate than the traditional flatware.
Post-Graduate: Rather than traditional flatware, composed of stainless steel amalgam, I am keenly aware of the impressive radiant reflection from which silverware is forged as a result of its precious metals.
Of course, an article contains more than one sentence. Applications like Grammarly or Hemingway Editor will highlight complex phrasing and average results over the entire document. It is possible to write informative and entertaining information at lower grade levels.
To improve vocabulary or comprehension, some people delve into articles written with higher grade levels in mind. ClinicalNovellas and other articles on this site may display the reading level for this purpose. However, to attract the most readers, simplify your wording, even if you normally communicate at a higher grade level.
UPDATED: SEP 25, 2023