Are Web Users Dense?

Web users

Clients and students frequently question why website writing should hover around a grade eight level.

The purpose is to promote readability.

It’s well known in the web writing community that the vast majority of online visitors don’t read word-by-word — they scan.

That’s why plain language works well on the Web.

When you present clear web writing, you get your message across, connect with your audience and promote positive online experiences.

So how do you gauge the grade level of your web writing? Consider the following chart as a guide:


6 TV Guide
8 Reader’s Digest
10 Time, Newsweek
11 Wall Street Journal

You can also use the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics formula, which rates writing on a U.S. grade school level based on the average number of syllables per word and words per sentence. This article, as an example, scores 7.0.

You can determine the Flesch-Kincaid grade level of your web writing with MS Word by selecting the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ and ‘Show readability statistics’ options in the Spelling and Grammar tab (go to Tools, Options). Then do a spell check to view your readability score.

In addition to ‘plain language’, here are other web writing tips to promote website readability and usability:

  • Keep a consistent style
  • Use active voice versus passive voice.
  • Passive voice: the subject is acted upon. It’s impersonal and static: “a delightful pizza was made by the chef.”
  • Active voice: the subject takes the action. It’s strong, dynamic and direct: “the chef made a delightful pizza.”
  • Use second-person narration (“you” and “we”) rather than first person (“I”).
  • Keep it personal and informal — speak “to” your audience, not “at” them.

At the end of the day, web users are definitely not dense. We’re just not willing to waste time on convoluted websites when there are more than 100 million other sites eager to serve us.

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