Tag Archives: copy

Writing by numbers

numbersJane Penson has written an interesting blog about the Flesch reading ease index. So interesting in fact, that I’ve spent a large part of my lunch hour working out how ‘readable’ my own writing is.

The Flesch index is a formula that decides how easy it is to read your work. The formula is based on the length of your sentences and the number of syllables in each word – fewer words and fewer syllables equals easier reading. If you’re interested, there’s lots more info about how it works here.

The formula produces a score out of 100, with a score of more than 40 being reasonably clear. Maths enthusiasts may enjoy working out the score for themselves, but Microsoft Word will do it for you. Just select Tools > Options > Spelling and Grammar and tick the Show readability stats box. Your Flesch score will then appear after you’ve run a spelling and grammar check.

The good news for me was that a couple of pieces chosen randomly from the Carphone help section did well. This page explaining how broadband works scored 71.4, while this one about online billing got 73.1. According to Jane’s blog, a typical article from The Sun scored 62. As we’re using simpler language than Chelsea, 22 from Essex, it’s safe to assume we’re not baffling anyone with our verbosity.

The obvious question to ask is: ‘is the Flesch index useful?” Like all formulas, it only measures success according to a few select criteria, and with something as abstract and flexible as writing that doesn’t seem a good idea. The other problem with using Flesch is that you’re likely to end up manipulating your copy purely to get a better score, which isn’t necessarily conducive to the initial aim of making your writing clearer.

That said, I’m sure I’ll obsessively check my work from now on to see just how ‘readable’ I can become. There’s nothing like the introduction of a scorecard to get the competitive juices flowing. And in the interests of research, I did get a Flesch score for Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare. I was sure that nothing so old could fare well according to a ‘readability’ formula. It got 81.9.

Which goes to show that beauty definitely is simplicity. And that Flesch maybe has a point.

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimmed;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed.

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Give them what they’re looking for

guide dogs

I was at the front of a very long cashpoint queue the other day. Which means I was trying to get my money and scarper as quickly as possible before the massed tutting turned to grievous bodily harm.

Anyway, having entered my card and PIN I was faced with a list of options. Scanning them quickly I couldn’t find what I was looking for. And because I couldn’t see the ‘Cash’ option I actually assumed for a second that the machine had run out of money. It was only on second inspection that I eventually found what I needed:

Withdrawal without receipt

Obviously it was my own fault for not reading properly the first time. But my behaviour was hardly atypical of someone at a busy cashpoint. And I’m probably a better skim reader than most.

What I was looking for was an option with the word ‘cash’ in it – it’s a cashpoint, I was trying to get cash out, I looked for ‘cash’. But because ‘cash’ wasn’t somewhere in the title, I couldn’t find what I needed quickly.

It’s not a biggie I know. But it’s definitely something to consider. Technical copywriters should never be vain enough to think people will give their work more than a passing glance. Readers use technical copy for information and they’ll search for that information as directly as possible.

So when I’m writing technical copy in the future, I’ll always try and give readers exactly what they’re looking for.

What is a copywriter?


You get some weird responses when you tell people you’re a copywriter. Most people have heard of my job but don’t really know what I do. I guess it’s a bit like being an MP (insert your own cymbal noise).

Here are a couple of sample reactions:

Me: “I’m a copywriter.”
Acquaintance one: “So if I can invent something, you can help me out yeah?”
Me: “It’s copywriter with a ‘w’. As in writer, not copyright. And you’d need to talk to someone at the patent office anyway.”

Me: “I’m a copywriter.”
Acquaintance two: “So you do photocopying?”
Me: “Well I’m not qualified yet. But I’ve heard you press the green button.”

I sound very self-important. But I wasn’t really sure what a copywriter did myself a couple of years ago. Basically, copywriters are writers, and the words they write are called ‘copy’. Copy + writer = copywriter. Geddit? For a profession that has one selling-point – being good at choosing words – it’s a very confusing job title.

Of course there are different types of copywriters, who all produce different types of work. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades at the moment – I spend most of my time producing copy for the web but I do a fair amount of technical writing, marketing stuff and journalism as well.

If you want to learn more about what different copywriters do, here’s my quick guide:

Advertising copywriters:

If they’re at an agency they’re often called creatives. These are the people who write the words for all the print, internet, TV and radio adverts you see. Their work ranges from 500-word brochures to Tesco’s “Every little helps” slogan. They’re what most people are talking about when they refer to copywriters.

Direct mail copywriters:

Similar to advertising writers, they send out all those sales letters and emails. They seem to spend the rest of the time writing blogs about how they can triple your sales.

Technical copywriters:

Technical writing is about presenting information as clearly and logically as possible. These guys write all the user guides, manuals and other technical documents you see. Not as easy as it sounds.

Web copywriters:

Writers who specialise in the web tend to have a good understanding of how people use web pages and tailor their copy for their specific audience. This generally involves writing for people with short attention spans and making sure copy attracts the attention of search engines.

SEO copywriters:

SEO stands for search engine optimization. Very basically, it means making sure web copy is picked up by Google by stuffing it with lots of key search phrases. For example, this piece of writing is full of the word ‘copywriter,’ which hopefully means Google will suggest this site whenever anyone searches for a copywriter.


Not strictly copywriters. But they write copy for newspapers, magazines and websites.

Ghost writers:

They write copy in the ‘voice’ of other people – most sports autobiographies are an example of this. They also write R.L. Stine books.