‘Readability metrics are not worth the paper they’re not written on.’
This was a quote from Professor Geoffrey Pullum at the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) annual conference in September 2017, and it’s the only thing Geoff Pullum has ever said that I disagree with.
In November 2016 I wrote a blog explaining the main readability metrics, Flesch Reading Ease, Flesch-Kincaid and the like, and making a case that there is value in these metrics for writers and editors. They’re not sufficient, they’re not even necessary, but they are useful – in context, and if their limitations are understood and accepted.
I put forward this opinion in a 5-minute lightning talk at the same SfEP conference where Geoff had earlier expressed his less complimentary view.
The rest of this blog outlines some of the thoughts behind my SfEP talk, and goes on to propose a new simplified metric (‘the Pix’) to use alongside Flesch-Kincaid. Pix is derived from three measures which are routinely used by Yoast SEO but are not in the Flesch family of metrics.
Consistency is one of the most important principles in business writing.
As I said in another blog, not Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘foolish consistency … the hobgoblin of little minds’, but sensible, pragmatic consistency which avoids upsetting sticklers and distracting non-sticklers among your audience.
Consistency of structure (format) is essential to the impact and effectiveness of business writing; yet is often overlooked. You need to find a way to remind you what formatting elements to use for different types of content, delivering flawless consistency along the way.
Not to mention traditional elements of style, word choices, or problems of any description where you need help remembering the solution.
One of the best ways to achieve these things – and embed a consistent approach to style and formatting in all your business writing – is to develop an Individual Style Guide.
A message I try to hammer home to my students is the need for consistency in business writing.
Not ‘foolish consistency… the hobgoblin of little minds’ as Ralph Waldo Emerson had it, but sensible, pragmatic consistency which avoids annoying or disengaging your reader to the point where they ‘swipe left’ on your content.
This applies to layout as much as – or more than – any other aspect of business writing.
One area where writers are often guilty of layout inconsistency is the punctuation of lists; across different lists in the same piece, or sometimes even within a single list.
It’s unnecessary, messy and unprofessional.
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