What readability level should you use?
For educated business readers, keep the text at about a tenth-grade readability level.
For average readers, keep the text at around an eighth- or ninth-grade readability level.
Use Word's readability formulas to check your writing occasionally.
What level of difficulty should you use?
Use vocabulary the reader uses.
If the reader knows little about the subject, define and explain more.
Keep your vocabulary and content at the reader’s level, usually the tenth-grade level.
Minimize unnecessary detail.
Decide how much you want to teach the reader.
Let the reader's education and expertise score guide you.
Naïve, general public, not knowledgeable
no unnecessary explanations
Some general knowledge, little understanding of jargon, able to understand some principles
moderate level knowledge words
commonest known jargon, but no specialized jargon
extra explanations as the reader will understand, but no technical details
visuals for more complex concepts but not for ordinary ones
examples for more complex concepts but not for ordinary ones
Astute, knowledgeable, understands the field, knows the jargon
commonly used jargon
explanations of only new concepts
visuals only to explain new concepts
few examples except to illustrate new concepts
Should the explanation be abstract or concrete?
Open to interpretation
Collaboration with the reader
Involves the reader
For readers who know the subject well
No deviation from expectations
Includes more details
Should the feedback loop be abstract or concrete?
Reader may decide how to respond
Reader may decide when to respond
Leaves open alternatives for the response
Leaves open the content the reader may include
Requires a single method of response
Requires response by a certain date or time
Allows no alternatives for the response
Specifies in detail what the reader must provide in the response
Has observable, measurable means to ensure the reader complied
What level of formality should you use?
Archaic (do not use)
"aforementioned" (16th century)
"as per your request" (18th century)
"under separate cover" (14th century).
Formal (use when the reader expects it)
Business (use normally)
Business informal (use occasionally)
Informal (do not use)
What tone should you use?
Close or partnering
What stance should you use?
Generally, use “you" and “I," not “they," “one," or “the company."
Write “please," “thank you," and “may I."
Avoid lecturing and patronizing. Avoid “You must," “You should."
Partner with the client.
Avoid discriminating language such as businessman, chairman, draftsman, fireman, flag man, man hours, or manpower.
To see an example of a letter that uses inappropriate strategies and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.
To see an example of an e‑mail that uses inappropriate strategies and a revision that improves it, click on the "Example" button below. The information will appear in a new window. Close the new window when you're finished looking at the examples.
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