It’s 1938…

Very bad things are going down in Europe.

Anti-Semitism is rife.

The Nazi’s are about to annex Austria.

And for a little known university graduate, there’s no choice…

He needs to get out of the country. Fast.

He flees to America.

He’s lucky. He gets a graduate place at Columbia University, where he studies Library Sciences.

In 1943 he’s awarded a Ph.D. and a year later he is made a US citizen.

In 2019, as I sit here in New Waltham on the east coast of England, that same graduate grades my writing up to and including this very sentence.

He gives it a 6.

I’m happy with that. Thanks.

Anything below 7.5 is pretty damn good.

Anything above that and chances are you would have stopped reading by now. Or you’d be finding it very hard to follow me.

You see, the graduate I’m talking about is the now famous Rudolf Flesch of the Flesch Readability Tests.

You’ve likely come across these. If not, lend me your ear, as the work this chap did – initially for the US military – is actually extremely useful for copywriting.

First, A Tad More History

After graduating from Columbia, Rudolf Flesch went on to author many books about language, such as The Art of Plain TalkingHow To Write Better and his most famous book, Why Johnny Can’t Read – And What To Do About It.

That last one’s a great title, right?

He went on to develop what’s known as the Flesch Reading-Ease test.

This is a score that’s given to a piece of writing and the higher the score – the easier the piece is to read.

It’s calculated using the number of words, syllables and sentences.

Interesting stuff, but I don’t really use this.

What I’m interested in is what’s known as the FK Grade, or FK Score.

This was developed a bit later when Rudy met a man that sounds like he was lifted from the newsroom of a Marvel comic:

J. Peter Kincaid.

The FK Score

This was first introduced to me by the famous US copywriter, Mark Ford.

We discuss it in my interview with him. You can find it in my book: The Art of the Click.

The FK Score takes much the same theory as the reading-ease stuff but flips out a grade.

For example, this piece – up until this point – has an FK Score of 6.

That’s pretty good. It’s not changed since I checked it in the intro.

I’ve been writing with an eye on the FK Score for over a decade, so there’s little wonder I can hit the mark without thinking about it too much.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Mark introduced the concept to me when I was starting out. He explained that the FK Score had been developed to help make sure military manuals were easy to understand.

Very loosely, the FK Score relates to the US education grade you’d need to have studied to understand the writing. Lower the score, lower the grade.

Some people don’t like this. Rubs them up the wrong way to think they’re writing too simply. I’m not too fussed.

What’s important to me is the idea that the lower the score, the clearer your message comes across.

Mark told me of an experiment they did once with all the writers in his business. They tested the FK Scores and found the best writers – those who wrote in the clearest way – all had low FK Scores.

It’s a tool I still use today. Every piece I write, I’ll check to see that the score is decent. If it’s not, I’ll edit a bit more.

How to lower your FK

I could tell you to buy my book. There’s some helpful advice on this very subject in there.

But I’ll be nice too, and share some tips here.

The easiest way to lower your FK Score is to know what you’re writing about.

If you’re trying to figure it out as you go, you’ll more likely write long, exploratory sentences that actually represent your thought process – not the expression of the idea.

Of course, that’s a little idealistic. I know sometimes you simply have to write under pressure and kick stuff out quick smart.

So, if you don’t have time to plan out a piece and get to grips with what you’re saying, my two top tips are:

  1. Break up any sentences that are longer than 30 words. It’s not an ideal fix, but it’s a quick one.
  2. Insert a line break and an ‘exclamation line’ between any paragraph that contains more than two sentences.

What I mean by an ‘exclaimation line’ is this:

See what I mean?

It’s three or four words that break up the flow and create a bit more white space.

As I say, these are cheap fixes to a problem that is likely much deeper. If your FK Score is way over 10 or 11, chances are you’re not expressing your idea very well.

So, rethink your approach.

OK. Now for the test…

What’s the FK Score of this entire piece?

Is there proof in the pudding….

Woohoo. It’s down to 4.9. I’ll take that.

P.S. I should point out, you can easily find your FK Score by checking Tools and then Spelling & Grammar in Word. Check some of your own writing and see where it’s at.