Wish you could check your written procedures?

This was the challenge I faced when I was writing my book. I wanted to check if the text actually made any sense to anyone apart from me.

In this article, I am going to share with you how you can check your written work for free. 

We know written communication can be a real challenge if you’re trying to get mass buy-in. 

If like me, after you have written your masterpiece, you’ve probably asked yourself the question:

“I wonder if my readers will understand this?”

Whenever we produce written work, we face this challenge.

Just like you, I’ve written numerous technical documents and reports. This led me to believe that that I was fairly good at getting my written message across, but I was wrong!

Wrong in the sense that my message wasn’t always really reaching my target audience

As a Risk and Safety Management professional it’s really important to make sure that my written work is understandable. This is because I am involved in writing procedures, policies, safety strategy documents etc on a daily basis for mass consumption.

Let me share with you some background.

At the start of 2019, I decided I wanted to write a non-fiction book on Risk Management. 

After 2 solid months of bashing away at the keyboard, I had a decent manuscript. Well, I thought so because it looked thick enough!

But I didn’t want “quantity-over-quality”. So I kept reading the manuscript over and over again.

Hmm…..still looked good to me!

Just to make extra sure, I then asked my wife, son and daughter to read some of the chapters.

Unfortunately my family disagreed. They said it wasn’t “simple” enough (cruel to be kind, I guess).

I realised that I had made a terrible assumption.

I had assumed that everyone would be able to follow my written text. 

This clearly wasn’t the case.

Like a mission impossible sketch, I then decided that my mission was to find a method to make my text simplified. 

I needed an assistant editor, however, it had to be free of charge.

Google to the rescue…

After some research, I found something. In fact, it was so obvious and staring me in the face whenever I visited some web pages.

You’ve probably seen them as well?

Those silly pop-ups and adverts about “Grammarly“.

Why didn’t someone tell me about this amazing widget before?

In case you’re not familiar with Grammarly, it helps with spelling, grammar and a whole load of other neat stuff. 

No…..I am not any sales commission here.

There is one feature within Grammarly that is really cool and relates to “readability“, which is the quality of your written text.

  • High readability means people can understand your sentences easily.
  • Low readability means people might still understand, but it’s more challenging and brain power draining. Readers may spend more time reading each paragraph to make sure they understood the text.

That’s the solution I was looking for….

For any document, I can use Grammarly to check my written work because it will give me readability value.

How is Readability Calculated?

Based upon the structure of each sentence, Grammarly can provide a value known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

This Grade-Level is based upon the education level of the individual. For example, a Grade Level 8 would indicate an average 13-year-old.

You can find out a lot more about Flesch-Kincaid on Wikipedia or just do a search on the internet.

For my purposes, the image below summarises the approach that I take when I want to simplify my document. 

I just need the Grade Level for my document and see if it matches my target audience.

But wait….I did say FREE…

The “lite” version is for free, which you can also use in Microsoft Word as an Add-On.

This is what I did and it’s fine for me….no need to spend any money.

By the way, I am using Microsoft Word 2016 and I did also find an inbuilt version. Check out Microsoft’s website and you might be able to do the same for your MS Office version?

There are also various web-based alternatives to Microsoft Word that you can use to test your text for readability. It’s a little more involved in that you have to copy and paste your text…blah blah…

My results

I mentioned that I set off on this journey with a view to simplifying my book on Risk Management.

After a major overhaul of the original manuscript (rejected by my family), I did the test using Microsoft Word’s review process.

And the results are:

Not quite Harry Potter (Grade Level 7).

But for my book on Risk Management, my target audience is college students and above i.e., Grade Level 12.

I think the vast majority of 11-13 year old kids would prefer a Harry Potter book instead of a book on Risk Management (maybe).

In fact, many adults also like reading Harry Potter books…it’s a good read.

My book Risk Management Simplified: A Definitive Guide for Workplace and Process Risk Management passed the check for written work based upon my target audience analysis (i.e, Grade 12 and above).

I also developed my eCourse for Risk Management Simplified using this readability check test. Check out the previews on the eCourse Portal.

Why is readability important?

Readability plays a very important role relative to your target audience, especially for workplace and process safety management.

Complicated procedures, policies, instructions have the potential for increasing risk exposure and safety issues due to increased human error (i.e., it wasn’t easy to understand).

Are there any limitations?

As with any tool or technique, the caveat “buyer beware” applies. 

My own experience leads me to offer you the following suggestions and advice:

  • Have a balanced approach regarding the effort invested in improving readability. I carried out tests on several procedures, policies and documents. What I found out is that there is a point of diminishing returns.
  • I am not sure if the Flesch-Kincaid test can be done for other languages apart from English. You might want to do a search on the internet for your particular needs.

On a final note:

I did the same test in word for this article and the results are…

You can also find out the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level value for this article by using this web site.  You will need to paste the URL for this page (https://www.redrisks.com/how-to-check-your-written-work-for-free/) for the result.

My target audience was college students and above.

How did I do?

Will your written work meet your expectations in the readability test?

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