January 05, 2017 Terry Freedman

Making your messages readable

When it comes to sending out messages to parents, pupils — or even the public via your school website — one of the most important things you must do is make it readable. In other words, it must be clear and easily understood. Fortunately, there are several tools available to help you achieve simplicity.

If you write your messages with Word, click on the Home or File button and select Options. Then select Proofing, and make sure that in the section called ‘When correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ you tick the box labelled ‘Check grammar with spelling’. You’ll then see a box labelled ‘Show readability statistics’.

Next time you run the spell-checker, you’ll be presented with two readability scores, the Flesch Reading Ease test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. The higher the former, and the lower the latter, the better. However, you have be a bit careful in taking these as the gospel truth because they are based on the American language and schooling system.

Another tool, which is online, is the University of Nottingham’s SMOG calculator. The acronym SMOG stands for Simple Measure Of Gobbledegook. It’s online, and easy to use and interpret. Usefully, it interprets the scores in terms of popular newspapers in the UK:

The Sun: under 14

The Daily Express: under 16

The Telegraph and The Guardian: over 17

As far as your messages are concerned, the lower the SMOG score, the better.

A third option is the use the Writer’s online readability tester. This checks your writing against the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease score, the Gunning Fog score and the SMOG index — and explains what each of these is and what it’s useful for.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘My parents are well-educated, they don’t need dumbed-down messages that will only insult their intelligence.’. But that isn’t the point. When you send a message reminding parents that their child should bring their PE kit on Wednesday, you want a message that says:

‘Please ask Freda to bring her PE kit to school on Wednesday’, not something like:

‘We should like to remind you that it is imperative that on Wednesday, which is our sports day, Freda is in possession of her PE kit.’

You’re sending a reminder, not competing for the Man Booker prize.

If you’re still not convinced, then consider this. When parents receive your message, they will be in a meeting, doing the shopping, or sitting on a bus. They need something they can read quickly, easily and without much danger of misinterpretation.

That’s what you should be aiming for.

 

terryfreedman.jpg Terry Freedman writes about educational Computing, and other topics, on his website ICT & Computing in Education, and his newsletter, Digital Education.

 

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