Now that you’ve written a draft of your news release, it’s time to polish. Polishing a draft is as important as thinking through before you write. It is an important step toward creating a release that gets results.
Fact check. Have you gone back through the text and double-checked all facts – including the amount of the grant? The phone numbers and email addresses at the end? The spelling of people’s names? Do the number add up?
Spell check. Have you used Spell Check throughout the document? Have you also spell-checked by hand to catch things that the computer won’t (their/ there, you’re/ your, its/ it’s, etc.)?
Quote check. Have you gone back to the person you are quoting – in person or via email — to to make double sure that it’s accurate?
Paragraph trim. Have you gone back through the text to make sure paragraphs are clearly marked and separated? That no one paragraph is longer than three sentences?
Jargon hunt. Have you gone through and taken out windy institutional jargon? Have you substituted each piece of jargon with a specific concrete detail? Have you eliminated abbreviations no one understands? Find a list of jargon to avoid on the web site of The Communications Network.
Last step: Find out, scientifically, how readable your text is.
The Flesch Score, aka, the Flesch Reading Ease Scale, is a function on your Microsoft toolbar. It tells you how readable – how easy to understand – a piece of writing is. It works on a scale of 0—100. The easier something is to read, the higher the score.
Your news release should have a Flesch score of 30 or higher. The very best often top 50.
To get a Flesch score:
In Microsoft Word, click on Tools. Click on “ Spelling and Grammar.” Do a spell check. When it’s done, a “Readability Statistics” box should appear. Flesch Score is near the bottom. If this doesn’t happen, you might need to delve into “options” on the toolbar to set it up. If that doesn’t work, here is a Readability Index Calculator that will “Flesch” a piece of text automatically.
How to use Flesch to get clearer writing:
1. Highlight a piece of text (shorter is better – one short section, one paragraph, versus the whole document). Find and record the Flesch Score.
If it scores between 30 and 40, you are on your way. If it’s below 29 or below, you have your work cut out for you. No matter what your initial score, your goal should always be to reach for at least 10 points higher.
2. Pepper the piece with periods.
Go through the text and change every compound sentence to two simple sentences. Delete every dependent clause. If you truly need the stuff that’s in the clause, change it to a simple sentence. Shorter sentences are easier to read. Thus, they always score higher on Flesch.
3. Use the highlighter.
Go through the text again. This time, highlight in yellow every word with three or more syllables. Either delete them, or use a single-syllable match. (Obviously, some three-syllable words you just can’t dump, for example, the name of the foun-da-tion).
4. Go on a fearless search for jargon.
Highlight every piece of institutional jargon. Even the short ones. Translate into real-people English. Replace every piece of jargon with a concrete real-people word.
If you follow these steps, your text should score at least 10 points higher than it did before.
All other things being equal, you will notice, over time, that more web hits show up on releases with higher scores. It’s because they are more readable.
For more on Flesch:
For more on how Flesch works and why it is important, read the essay "Flesch and the Common Man."