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Does Your Audience Understand Your Message? Maybe Not.

By: Robin Warshaw

Robin Warshaw ( writes and edits for a wide range of corporations, institutions, communications agencies and publications. To sign up for her free newsletter, Content Counts!, send email to

Whether your communications are targeted at customers, stockholders, employees, community members, subscribers or others, they may be failing to hit the mark. Before revamping your marketing strategy or paying for a costly Web site redesign, examine the readability of your materials.

Content readability, on paper or on an electronic screen, is an often overlooked element of marketing and communications effectiveness. The latest proof of its value was shown in a study published in the July 2001 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers found that pediatric health information written for adult audiences on 100 authoritative Web sites was pitched at too high a reading level for good comprehension. The sites' content was written at a 12th-grade level instead of the average U.S. adult reader's 8th- or 9th-grade level.

You don't have to be explaining the intricacies of childhood immunization schedules to make the same mistake. How often do you send out print materials or upload content written by experts without having the copy screened for readability and understanding? Even well-educated audiences need easily understood material.

Reading assessment tools in word-processing programs may help. Better still, be diligent about replacing technical terms with everyday words. Clarity brings results.

This article first appeared in Content Counts! Summer 2001

© 2001, Robin Warshaw

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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