2 women and man speaking to each other

A good story takes more than a solid topic to make the grade. Word choice matters. Complex words and stretched-out sentences drive readers away.

How can you make your writing easy to understand? For starters, stick to words with 1 or 2 syllables when you can. This list compares 1-syllable words (best) to words that mean the same thing but are harder to read:

  • Use vs. utilize
  • Copy vs. emulate
  • Lets vs. enables
  • Left vs. vacated
  • Help vs. assistance
  • Find vs. locate
  • Learn vs. determine
  • Small vs. minute
  • Check vs. verify
  • Fix vs. repair
  • Wrong vs. erroneous
  • Buy vs. purchase

Some writers opt for longer, “fancier” words to dress up an article. But the goal for a story should be reaching members, not sounding smarter than the reader.

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Index helps you find out how easily readers can grasp a story. It scores the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence.

Want to test your writing? Open a recent story in Microsoft Word. First, set up your preferences.

  1. Click Word>Options (Word>Preferences on a Mac)
  2. Select, “Spelling and Grammar.”
  3. Under, “Grammar,” check, “Show Readability Statistics.”

Next, in your document, click, “Tools > Spelling and Grammar.” After fixing any grammatical errors, a reading score box appears (see above).

You will see two readability scores. The Flesch Reading Ease test uses a 100-point scale to measure a story. Higher scores are best. Aim for 60 to 70 points (or more).

Want to focus on a grade-level instead? Use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. A score of 8.0 means a U.S. eighth-grader can understand your story. That is as high as your writing should go. Newspaper journalists are taught to write for a sixth-grade level, no higher. The lower your score, the more readers will understand your story.