Write for a 5th-grader: Crafting simple, clear & readable content
To write for the web, focus on the basics — and make friends with some great readability tools.
Written on November 4, 2021 by Christina Blust
Did you know? For most websites, the experts recommend that you aim for a fifth-grade reading level or lower. This means that the average fifth-grader would be able to understand the content on your site.
It’s harder than it may seem! (Especially for those who come from journalism or academic backgrounds.)
Writing understandable copy
The basics for writing content
To write at a fifth-grade level, focus on being clear and simple. For instance,
- Use short sentences and paragraphs. Usability.gov recommends no more than 20 words per sentence, five sentences per paragraph.
- Use simple words that your readers will understand, instead of big words or jargon.
- It’s okay to start sentences with “And” or “But” or “Or” — lots of the rules you learned in high school English don’t really apply on the web.
- Put the most important information first. Front-load the content that your reader needs the most, and then provide more details if you have them.
- Divide your content into sections or “chunks.” Instead of only writing in long paragraphs, use subheads, lists, and sections to break things up.
Readability tools are your friends
There are some great tools that help you assess and improve your writing.
- Microsoft Word has Readability Statistics to check your document
- If you use WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin has some great functionality
- Hemingway Editor is an online reading level tool
- Readable is a free readability test tool
- The Up-Goer Five Text Editor is a fun tool that challenges you to write using only the 1,000 most-used words in English. (Be sure to check out the great xkcd comic that inspired this editor too!)
More readable text content means more people receive your message
Web content and copy should always help you reach your goals! When your readers can understand your message, they’re happier, too.
What copy on your site could you improve today?