What ever you think your audience’s reading ability is, I’m betting that it’s lower.
Here at kilobox communiqué, I write for an audience (you guys) that I believe expects great things from each sentence. Because I’m talking about ‘writing’ and ‘communications’ I’m guessing that you’re OK with me using words like ‘syntax‘ and ‘convoluted‘. However, when I’m at work I write for a diverse workforce that have a variety of information needs and a varied ability to digest written work.
One way to assess the reading ability / preferences of your audience is to poll them on their newspaper habits. (But beware, this can also highlight political / class details, so there’s a need to be sensitive in such blanket polling.)
No daily UK newspaper (that I know of) writes with a university educated reader in mind. You might think that the Times, Independent, Guardian and Telegraph are ‘high-brow’ but they ain’t in their daily news sections. They know that people need a quick read, and while they may use some hardcore vocabulary at times, their writing style is aimed at teenage comprehension levels. (Magazines and Sunday editions may well vary in style / audience somewhat.)
The Sun and Mirror (the ‘red tops) ensure that their copy is fun and easy to read at a glance. They know that their readers haven’t all been taught to read to the same standard. Don’t ever confuse simple language with simple journalism though! Those red top journalists are just as savvy and wealthy as the ‘broadsheet’ ones.
So, within your company, what do you think the reading age is? What reading ability do you think your Internal Communications department are aiming for? Too high?
Here are a couple of personal thoughts from me: As an internal communications editor, I like articles that stretch people’s understanding of a topic. I always explain novel terms, but I’m unafraid of using big words when appropriate. I don’t ever want to dumb down our comms, even though I know the reading ability of our audience is much much lower than the figure in your head…
Contrary to that, I’m aware that long sentences and high-sounding words just emotionally turn-off some of our workforce. So they don’t read anything; they probably think we’re just farting in to the wind for the sake of our managers and bosses. How can I help engage these detached people without dumbing down my articles or patronising anyone?