When writing, cutting through the clutter is instrumental in connecting with your audience. Writing with your audience in mind — from a single word to an entire press release — is key.
Writing for readability is the first step in ensuring your audience absorbs the material you are providing. Complicated writing leads to difficulty in audience understanding. When an audience cannot understand the content, they don’t absorb it or enjoy it.
The more readable something is, the more effective. A useful tool for determining readability is to calculate the Flesch Reading Ease of a text. The scale for the Flesch Reading Ease begins at zero and ends at 100. Ideally, a readable text is in the 60-to-70 range. On Microsoft Word, the readability statistics tool allows you to calculate the Flesch Reading Ease automatically. The formula to manually calculate is
RE = 206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)
where RE is the reading ease, ASL is the average sentence length, and ASW is the average number of syllables.
When writing a press release, it is important to keep reporters in mind as they will be the ones covering the news. According to Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications, 70% of reporters spend one minute or less reading a press release, and one of their largest pet peeves is a release being too lengthy. For this reason, it is essential to look at the average reading time of a release. The longer a press release is, the less likely people are to read it. One minute of reading equals about 200 words, the recommended length for a press release.
Leaving the audience wanting more and linking to more information is a great way to shorten a press release. Small changes can change your release in a big way — shorter words and sentences, bullets and boldfacing type all can help improve readability. Only provide the readers with the necessary information to keep the content concise. For boilerplates, short definitions are preferred. Being concise is at least twice as nice!
When people see a long paragraph, they skip over it. How long is too long? Ideally, a paragraph will be 1-2 sentences. Providing people only with the information they need is key to shortening the length. When viewed on a cellphone, paragraphs should typically not extend past 5 lines.
For the first paragraph, the content is vital in setting the stage. The opening paragraph should be a brisk illustration of your point. Ask yourself: What is the problem that you are solving?
Words and sentences are not exempt from length limitations either. To achieve a 90% comprehension rate in PR, 14 words or less is the ideal sentence length. Preferably, these sentences are made up of easy words. “What is an easy word,” you may be wondering? An easy word consists of two syllables. Small words have power, and with that power, you will have a greater influence on your readers.
Last but not least, cutting through the clutter is essential in building quotes. Many writers will often begin a quote with how they feel — such as: “I am thrilled.” The reader simply does not care how the spokesperson feels about a new product, merger or whatever the news may be. The reader wants to know how this news will affect them. What the audience truly wants to hear is how the news may improve their lives.
Cutting through the clutter in writing will not only make the content more digestible, but it will also have a larger impact on the audience. When the reader is able to understand the news, they are more likely to spread the news, which should be the goal of every PR professional.