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Content, Writing and Copyright Forum

Fourth Grade or Sixth Grade English

 5:43 am on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

People have often suggested me to use fourth-grade English over net especially - The Americans. Is it that Americans are more slangy and understands English of the simpler context?

Well, I have realized taht simpleton English over net works effectively - but have we waved goodbye the ethics of great English with rich grammer and superbly drafted sentences.

Or Fourth-grade is the key to selling and making transactions work. I would like comments from people developing selling-oriented content for the US region.

Says What?



 6:54 am on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Well, I wouldn't say that I write fourth grade English when I write web copy aimed at the Americans. But I do try to make sure that everybody gets the point.

I always try to be as clear and unambiguous as posibble. I don't see any reason to write 'difficult' and heavy sentences,
no matter who my copy is aimed for. I try to avoid slang and words that are straight out of the dictionary of foreign words (is that what it's called).


 11:40 am on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Ivana - the same thing is known as fourth-grade English......... Think you got a diff. idea what I meant to state.

It not a matter of being but using slangs and bottomline language gets a catch in US - atleast!


 12:23 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Oh, I didn't realize that's what you meant.

When you say

It not a matter of being but using slangs and bottomline language gets a catch in US - atleast!

-what do you mean?


 1:08 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

As an American, I take offense to that idea. You shouldn't write at a lower level to entice visitors from a specific country. Now, if you're targetting children 16 or under, I can understand writing to a lower level. But if your target is adults, they may or may not be very receptive of being spoken down to.
I think as a rule, that for any audience finding information on the Internet one should write shorter rather than longer words, less complex as compared to more complex sentences. If you start using slang, be sure your target audience appreciates that. If you are selling music to young adults, fine, be slangy. If, on the other hand, you're selling high-end antiques, try to be more proper. You get the idea. If I'm you're target market (i.e. - a youngish business professional), you'd better think hard about using proper grammar and quadruple check your spelling.


 2:18 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Let's not misunderstand what Yogis is saying. What he means is a relaxed style that is often used by Americans. Rather than our (my) stiff upper lip British (English).

There is no need to make something more complex than it needs. I agree that a relaxed and informal style is a good way of communicating.

There are, of course, exceptions, for example: Technical, legal or professional sites where a relayed style would not suit.


 2:35 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Fourth grade is a bit extreme, perhaps, but the basic idea is valid. All too often copy is written at the level of a grad student thesis - long paragraphs, lengthy and complex sentences, obscure words and jargon, etc.

There are a variety of tools that let you evaluate the ease of reading a document. MS Word, for example, includes the Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score. DigitalGhost referred to the Gunning Fog Index in a recent thread.

Note that a lower readability score doesn't mean you have completely "dumbed down" your document - even PhDs may prefer to read copy written at a 10th grade level rather than wading through masses of complex verbiage. You can still express important thoughts and complex ideas, but the presentation of these will be clearer.

Web writing, IMO, should be clear and simple in most cases. The New York Times may be better journalism, but I'd emulate USA Today for web copy that is supposed to drive people to some kind of action - a purchase, an inquiry, or a click.


 2:42 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's actually an established rule of thumb in many media fields in the US to write to a below-high-school-level standard when targeting marketing to the general American public (high school = ages 14-17, grades 9-12). As rogerd mentioned, look at the linguistic complexity of the average article in USA Today, probably the most widely distributed newspaper in the US.

I'm an American, and it's not so much insulting in my opinion as much as a rather depressing bit of commentary about national literacy levels.

That said, the most important thing in any marketing and copywriting is knowing your audience. Are you targeting the USA Today demographic, or The New York Times demographic? You could probably safely write at a first-year university level if you were targeting the NYT's segment of the population.


 3:04 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is what I was trying to convey. Know your audience. However, if stereotypes and biases come into play, your view of your audience can easily become skewed and thus the effectiveness of manuscript based on said biases will suffer.

You're right. Our literacy level is quite appalling. I find it interesting that webmasters try to "force" Internet users to upgrade their browsers in an attempt to remove the need to support browsers that don't meet W3C standards, but we don't "force" the illiterate people to learn to read by creating copy written to the strictest standards of a particular language. Couldn't we argue that by dumbing down content, we allow the reader to remain, well, dumb?


 3:10 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Couldn't we argue that by dumbing down content, we allow the reader to remain, well, dumb?

Absolutely... but I think a good many WebmasterWorld members are more worried about their sites' sales figures than about furthering the education of the US populace. ;)


 3:17 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Couldn't we argue that by dumbing down content, we allow the reader to remain, well, dumb?

A lot depends on the purpose of your copy. If the site contains scholarly articles or, say, literary discussion, then fairly high level copy is appropriate. If it's a widget sales site and the purpose of the paragraph is to explain why Widget A is better than Widget B, keeping things simple probably makes a huge amount of sense - even if many of your visitors have advanced degrees.

Similarly, if the whole objective of the page is to get visitors to click on a link, simplicity will beat complexity every time.

I wouldn't always assume that copy that is easier to read is "dumbed down". If I were to read an explanation of string theory, for example, I'd probably learn more if the information was conveyed at a simpler reading score (say, 10th grade vs. astophysics grad student) even if the actual content was identical. To me, at least, dumbing down is related more to content (or lack thereof) vs. sentence complexity.


 3:22 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

<mock indignation>See? And THIS is why our populace will always remain dumb! Big business allows it, nay, PUSHES our young ones to be dumb. Well, don't blame me when you are forced to write the following: Dude, buy our stuff man. We put the izzle in schizzle!
</mock indignation>

Okay, so I'm not up on my slang. :)

I guess I knew that all my hard book-learnin' was for naught when I worked for a company that had their own grammar rules. Not just stylistic guidelines, but actual grammar rules that differed from the accepted standards.


 3:24 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Well, I believe that when writing webcontent, focus should always be on the target audience.....it never hurts to keep your sentences short, concise and to the point.

Web writing, IMO, should be clear and simple in most cases

Simple is better than complicated.........whatever it is that you want to say...say it in a way that anyone reading can understand......

After all that is primarily the pupose of your web content....


 3:49 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's not a question of literacy. I'm surprised that everyone assumes the average literacy level of Americans is lower than the rest of the world; we've had a pretty comprehensive public school system in place for more than a century now, and illiteracy is very low. I'm not up on how we compare to the rest of the world, but in sheer numbers we have a hell of a lot of post-secondary-school educated.

That said, we also have famously short attention spans. Well, isn't that what the Internet's for? I've got my B.A. in English and have to admit that most web pages, if the copy is too complex and too long, I'll either not read it at all, or will print it out to read offline. It's not the audience, it's the medium.
So, as has been said, you've got to write for your audience. I'm going to re-stress-- do not assume these things about your audience. Don't assume that you need to talk to them like children. Take a thorough look around your competitors and make note of the language and tone they use. Write up your copy and test it-- I don't care how, but at least ask someone whether it inspires or offends them. That's the most important thing. If your users say ugh, I can't read all that, then you've written too much, and it doesn't matter if they're rocket scientists or literature majors or street vendors-- if it's too complex and long, it's too complex and long.


 4:08 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

I've heard that U.S. newspapers are traditionally written to a sixth-grade level. I know network television news broadcasts are about a third-grade level. It's partly a matter of education (at national level-- well-read Connecticut and illiterate Mississippi averaging out), and it's partly cultural (Americans are stereotypically more hurried and impatient), but it's also a reflection of the medium. It takes longer to hear words in a broadcast than to read them on paper, and you only have a half-hour to cover all subjects. Moreover, a picture is worth a thousand words and a moving picture can be worth many more.

On that note, remember why most people go to most websites. With the exception of a few review sites and e-zines, it's not for literary appreciation; instead, most people are doing research for shopping, looking up references, or pursuing other tasks.

In such a scenario, a Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of "love" which is a five-word sentence fragment can be a lot more informative and useful than a Shakespearian sonnet on the same subject. That's not dumbing anything down, it's simply providing content that's relevant to the audience and appropriate to the medium.


 4:11 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

Here is a good rule of thumb. If you can delete words from your sentence and it still makes sense, you probably don't need them. Keep it short and simple.

Also, if you are writing for an international audience, keep it simple. If you use long and complex words, you will confuse your reader.

As several others have mentioned, the copy should be written for your targeted audience. Even highly complex information, should not exceed an 11th grade reading level.


 4:14 pm on Nov 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

You hit the nail on the head. We do have short attention spans. My motto is to write efficiently. Leave out all unnecessary words. I prefer to use shorter or less complex words to longer or more complicated words, but if I can convey something more efficiently and effectively with a longer word, so be it.

I was just playing Devil's Advocate to make yogis realize that stereotypes can skewer one's view of one's audience, no matter how well you think you know them. Obviously, an audience is a group of people that to some degree share the same likes, thoughts, actions, etc. Thus we make some assumptions about them in order to market to them, but we must tread VERY carefully in order to avoid misleading, or just plain wrong, stereotypes.


 5:14 am on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is for Ivana!

(It not a matter of being but using slangs and bottomline language gets a catch in US - atleast!)

sorry that went a lot hayward.

I meant that using slangs and bottomline language is not the only intention. Just a few words and quotes that gets more catch by the readers. And this language is more adaptive in US than you'd try in UK or other Euro nations. Americans needs a diff. spice of word-spinning........


 5:09 am on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

Let me be very clear - about my intentions. There is no hostility aimed at Americans! CHOSTER here has quipped the word sixth-grade English used by US newspaper publications. How about that?

Well my idea was to verify the best effects of your copy! I believe that copy can always be improvised and we all have the potential to play with ideas. By fourth-grade stuff i obviously meant language that is spoken and grasped as easy as Mc's burger.

You guys know how difficult it is to sell stuff round here on web. And no matter how much we brag off - conversion are always unstisfactory.

Getting a visitor hooked (after u have made all the efforts of getting him in here) on the basis of copy is a tact. Slangs obviously do not denote crappy things we use on daily vocab. It means slangs may sound a bit permeable but personal at the same time.

Simply tell me - on the basis of copy - how will US people buy stuff online? 1st grade, 4th grade or 6th grade?


 6:11 am on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

I vote 6 (Canada)


 10:18 pm on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

Simply tell me - on the basis of copy - how will US people buy stuff online? 1st grade, 4th grade or 6th grade?

I vote for a variety. Use a 4th grade level (USA Today) for quick summary information, brief notices regarding changes to the site, etc. Use 6th grade level (New York Times) for technical details, articles aimed at enthusiasts, etc. Use 8th grade for your terms of service and user agreements.

Unless your site is a literary magazine, use the simplest writing style that still conveys the information. If your visitors aren't there for their own edification, keep it pithy, write with an eye toward answering questions, and don't assume they're familiar with technical aspects of your product. That means you may be writing to a different grade level each page, but it allows visitors to get the information they're after as quickly and accurately as possible.


 10:55 pm on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

Depending on the subject and purpose of the website, I suppose that one might find some justifcation producing two, or even three, sites utilizing progressively higher usages of the language.

Or, if keeping everything on one website is prefered, it might be reasonable to offer links
to internal pages that offer a more in depth and perhaps more scholarly approach. Do that in multiple steps and you maight be able to satisfy eveeryone, or at least more of your target audience.


 11:31 pm on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

The vast majority of sites out on the internet are not about rocket science. They are about less complicated fields of interest. I think that 6 through 8 would be a good area to write web pages. Lets face the facts the public schools in the US are a joke and most kids stop learning to develop their skills in english stop when they have a vauge grasp on how to speak the language.

If anyone is offended it most likely those who have a diploma in something or other. If that is you then forget about it. Most of the people in the US are not very literate and thats a fact.

Writing for those people who are not the best at reading or verbal communication, is a good idea.


Our CGI shopping cart has been examined and designed by Gradutes from MIT. They all agree that it is very simple for the common man to use. The products have been categorized for maximum profit on our companies part. If you should so desire to atain one of them you will need to double click on the item you would like. From there you will have to fill out our complicated form, enter your home address, favorite color, password and all of your credit card information before we can ship the product to you.


Click here to buy.

Me + Typing = not good


 1:46 am on Nov 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

Jumping in late...

The web is increasing the options available to writers. The writing to 4th grade rules used by newspapers and TV were based entirely on the idea of one monopoly broadcasting to a single mass audience. That means they have to stoop to the lowest common denominator of the audience.

With the web, dude, the audience will seek out and find the info that it desires. That means you can focus your writing on a tighter audience. It blows apart the mass audience supposition. The main thing is to focus on the quality of the information.

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