Warning: Your oh so clever copywriting could be unreadable

Is your copy so clear it's unreadable? expert tips for more readable copy.

Always choose clarity over cleverness.

It’s a copywriter’s mantra but many writers can’t wait to pop on their clever trousers, assuming that the more clever their copywriting is the more professional it is.

And the result is, well, it’s unreadable.

It’s not that cleverness has no place in copywriting. Not at all. It’s just that the easier your messages are to read, the easier they are understood and actioned!

Copywriting 101 says: Make sure your message is aimed at the right audience, matching their education and vocabulary.

As a copywriter, you’re not writing for you. You’re not even writing for your client. You are writing for their customers.

And a general rule of thumb, unless your target market has specific language needs (like being under 5, or super clever university boffins) marketing copywriting should be aimed at a high school education level – Year 9 or 10.

How can you tell?

Tools like this online tool for text readability are also really useful. You simply plug in some text and get a grade rating. You’ll see there are a few different formulas and it’s quite interesting to see the results.

Remember: the higher the grade needed to read your copywriting, the harder it is for a wider audience to understand. And lowering the grade doesn’t mean talking down to your audience. Just taking the hot air out of your copywriting.

How can you improve the readability of your copywriting?

If your want your copy to be understood without distractions, exchange long words for shorter (less ambiguous) words and reduce the average length of your sentences.

Here’s a great guide on readability vs sentence length:

Very easy             8 words or fewer
Easy                      9 – 11 words
Fairly easy          12 – 14  words
Standard             15 – 17  words
Fairly difficult    18 – 21  words
Difficult               22 – 25  words
Very difficult      26 – 30  words

Remember: The longer the sentences and the more complicated the language, the harder your copywriting is to understand.

And it’s not just the words you need to simplify.

Simplifying your ideas is also key. And again, because it’s important, simplifying isn’t dumbing down. It’s ditching all the fluff and hot air to focus on the core issues, pains and solutions.    

Another great tool to boost readability

If you haven’t heard of the Hemingway App, where have you been? It’s a fantastic (and free) tool that critiques your copywriting.

The tips it automatically gives you include:

The app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red.

You can utilize a shorter word in place of a purple one. Mouse over them for hints.

Adverbs and weakening phrases are shown in blue. Get rid of them and pick words with force, perhaps>Phrases in green have been marked to show passive voice.

You may not implement every single suggestion but it’s a great tool to use in your editing phase.

As I’ve become more experienced as a copywriter, it’s the editing phase that takes more of my time and effort. So a tool or two is always welcome!

What about you? How do you improve the readability of your copy?


This post scores 9.3 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level although it did try and tell me a few of my words had too many syllables. This is where you have to use your own judgement as well. I don’t think vocabulary is too much for you… is it?

20 Responses

  1. I love the Hemingway App for copywriting. Recently I used it to help a friend with an assignment for her Primary Teaching degree. We adjusted her storytelling assignment content until the Hemingway App told us it was at a Grade 3 reading level, which was the target level for the assignment.

  2. I love simple! I don’t have the time or patience to read something three times to understand what it’s saying.

    Thankfully, I managed grade 7.1 for my copy.

    Cool tool Belinda.

  3. Greetings.

    When you say “Year 9 or 10” of high school, this would refer to what ages? I don’t want to presume that Australia has the same designations for their high school years that the US does. (“9th or 10th grades” here refers to 14- or 15-year-olds).

  4. Good reminders. The title though? It should probably read: Warning: Your oh so clever copywriting could be unreadable

    I didn’t see any sources in your story that lent weight to “probably.”

  5. Unless your audience specifically demands a higher vocabulary, it is not a wise choice to use them.

    I am Jay Abraham’s list knowing he uses some great words, very difficult yet insightful sentences.

    For all the other blogs, I expect it to flow easily. Else I quit.

    A beautiful reminder and great resources. Stay Awesome.

  6. Hi Belinda!
    Love the tips & tools in this post! Have to admit I was a little taken back when I put my last blog post in the readability measure and it came back all marked up. Reminded me of getting papers back in school!

    Question for you – many of my sentences came back with “too many syllables”. Do they mean to shorten the sentences or use shorter words? Or a combination of the two? Some of the sentences they tagged with that look like relatively average length sentences. Any thoughts?
    btw, congrats on the little one! Enjoy! 🙂

    1. It can be a shock I know! It’s good remember that you don’t have to implement every single suggestion. It’s just great to get some pointers and direction.

      In terms of your syllables feedback, that’s a bit of a weird one! My guess is too many longer words in the sentence (rather than the sentence itself being too long). If that’s the case, try simplifying the language and seeing if it goes away. Let me know how you get on and if that works!

      And thank you for your congrats! 😀

  7. Great post Belinda, I agree 100%. I think many writers almost condescend their audience by trying to show off as much of their vocabulary as possible.

    There’s a time and a place for that (e.g. in really specialist communications) but otherwise it just annoys readers.

    I’m a big advocate of the KISS approach – Keep it simple, stupid!

    Shared this on my Buffer 🙂

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