Every time I see an example of communication that's too complicated and technical, I think: It doesn't have to be that way.

In fact, it's incredibly easy to determine whether any written communication needs to be simplified. In just five seconds, you can perform an objective, expert assessment on your writing that will suggest how to improve it--and persuade others that it needs to change.

How? By using Microsoft's Readability Statistics function, available in both Word and Outlook.

"Readability," of course can be defined as the quality of written language that makes it easy to read and understand. There are two standards for determining readability:

  • Flesch Reading Ease test, which rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier writing is to understand.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which rates text on a U.S. school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means an eighth grader can understand the document.

You can perform either test manually (which is complicated), but the helpful geeks at Microsoft have incorporated a readability application into Word and Outlook. Here are the basics.

Once you've set it up, you'll get readability stats every time you spell-check a document. In five seconds, you would know that a piece of writing like this one needs help:

Acme Technology Solutions helps companies achieve exceptional results through the intelligent application of high-value business software and world-class IT solutions. We have pioneered a unique, dynamic new approach to providing solutions that enable growing businesses to compete head-to-head with companies spending much more for Enterprise software and IT services.

The stats on this example? A Flesch Reading Ease score of 7.5 and a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 12. This is clearly a problem: "Good" for Flesch is 70 or higher. And the ideal reading level is eighth grade for most venues (even lower for social media).

Of course, fixing troubled writing takes work. But you can quickly see that the following steps are needed to improve the example I provided: Choose simpler words. Be more specific. And shorten sentences.

(By the way, this blog--minus the bad example--is written at the eighth grade level, so that's good. But it only rates 59.8 on the Flesch scale because I tend to write using complex sentences. So I've got room for improvement.