The average reading age of the UK population is 9 years – that is, they have achieved the reading ability normally expected of a 9-year-old. The Guardian has a reading age of 14 and the Sun has a reading age of 8.
Many deaf, deafened or hard of hearing people have not had equality of access to education; for example, 95% of profoundly deaf teenagers only achieve a reading age of 9.
This is an example of a possible paragraph written for the access page of a brochure:
Where captioned performances are provided for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing patrons, any audience member wishing to make use of the service should request appropriate tickets at the time of booking to ensure they have a suitable view of the display units.
This sample has a reading age of 24.5 and, therefore, it excludes the vast majority of its intended readers.
Here is an alternate version of the copy:
We provide captioned performances for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing people. If you would like to use the captions, please let us know when you book your tickets. We can then make sure you have a seat with the best available view of the captions.
It now has a reading age of 14.7 All we’ve done is use shorter sentences and shorter, everyday words.
Here are some instructions on how to calculate the reading age of a piece of text using the Fog Index or a tool within Microsoft Word: Readability3
One way of improving readability for everyone is to create scannable copy. This makes it easy for people to go quickly to the information they are interested in. Take a look at the extracts below from The Sun and The Guardian on 25 August 2008. Which one is easiest to scan and why?
What you can do …
- Use bold to take the reader to key words.
- Use meaningful subheadings (explain what’s in it for them).
- Bullet points to summarise content.
- Break up your copy into readable bite-sized chunks.
- One idea per paragraph.