Using Simple English

Simple English,copyediting,business writing,Editor's Desk

Let’s say you’re shopping for computers. You go into a store and ask two different salesmen about the graphics on a particular model.

Salesman #1 says: “This baby is configurable to dual AMD FirePro D700, each with 8GB of GDDR5 VRAM, 2048 stream processors, 384-bit-wide memory bus, 264GB memory bandwidth and 3.5 teraflops performance.”

Salesman #2 says: “Top of the line. Graphics, photos, games, and movies will leap off the page. And if you’re designing graphics or web pages, you can’t beat the power or memory capacity.”

Which salesman would you buy from?

Chances are Salesman #2 will be getting your money. He didn’t intimidate you with jargon or feel he had to impress you with fancy tech talk like Salesman #1.

Salesman #2 simply spoke to you. And if that rings true in a brick-and-mortar location, why should your business copy be any different?

Just like that savvy salesman, your website should be using Simple English.

Simple English doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your text. It means making your page easier to read by not using large words, overly-techincal jargon, or complex phrasing.

In other words, it reflects how most people speak in both personal and business conversation. You want your website to reflect that casual tone. After all, your customers most likely don’t need to know how it works, just that it works.

So how can you test the readability of your business copy?

The Flesch Reading Scale measures the reading ease of text using a complex formula. The higher the score out of 100, the easier the page is to read. Can you guess what this page scored? I’ll tell you at the bottom.

I would also recommend reading your copy out loud, possibly to a friend or colleague. If your friend curls an eyebrow, or if something doesn’t sound quite right, chances are it won’t read well. Novelists use this technique all the time.

Also, consider your customer’s level of understanding of your product or service. Put yourself in their shoes. Would they really understand all the impressive technical words you’re using? If not, time to reconsider your strategy.

Still wondering how this page scored? It got a 69.8%, which is considered OK to read.

For this, I blame Salesman #1.

Questions? Contact us at

Reprinted from The Editor’s Desk.

If you’re a writer, write. And if you’re a reader, keep reading. We need you

Author Richard S. Todd

Richard Todd is a novelist, screenwriter, and president at The Editor’s Desk. Visit him online at


Author: Richard S. Todd

Pro copywriter. Expressive voice artist. Award-winning public speaker.

2 thoughts on “Using Simple English”

  1. While I know too many people who’d rather listen to Salesman #1, I definitely agree with you that texts should be comprehensible. No needlessly difficult words and just plain English. Prose should not be poetry. I personally use the Flesch-Kincaid readability scale to determine if my children’s books are right for my target audience, but I am not sure how reliable it is. My texts often get a grade level of 3 and about 92%. I think you are right, and it’s true, your text is perfectly understandable.

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