As the authors of public affairs materials — fact sheets, news releases, policy papers and more — we are given the assignment of being comprehensive while being clear and concise. Simple is hard.
Professional writers often get caught walking the “readability” tightrope, balancing between being “too complicated” and accused of “dumbing it down.” Keeping the audience in mind always is the best gauge. That always will help in deciding the level of detail and complexity you may get away with in any document.
Of course, there is the Flesch-Kinkaid two-tier scale of readability developed by the military in the 1970s. The Reading Ease score indicates how easy a text is to read. A high score implies an easy text. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade level indicates the grade a person will have to have reached to understand the text.
The scoring goes something like this:
• 90.0–100.0: Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student;
• 60.0–70.0; Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students; and
• 0.0–30.0: Best understood by university graduates.