So one of the mentors I admire is Alan Weiss, a solo consulting guru well known for his work on value-based fees. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see him, you would be stunned by the delicious way he manipulates language. He has an astonishing vocabulary and organization of thought that reflects in the way he speaks. One of the things he says is that the “Write to a sixth grade reading level” is stupid. He writes his books as he speaks – at a very sophisticated level.

Which brought me to the main point: don’t write to a sixth grade level. Don’t even write to a college level. Write to your level – write in your own voice, as you speak, in the way you feel the most comfortable. This is about nonfiction, by the way – fiction has it’s own crazy rules that you can follow.

I don’t think the “sixth grade level” thing is all bad, however. Writing at a sixth grade level, to me, means that you must write:

1) Clearly – if no one understands what you’re saying, it doesn’t matter what level you write to.

2) Concisely – be organized and to the point; you are guiding someone’s thinking when they read your words.

3) Simply – don’t overcomplicate the matter; say what you need to say and move on to the next subject.

The question of writing to a specific audience, I think, has less to do with the audience and more to do with your own voice. Don’t write “down” – don’t write “up.” Going to the thesaurus to find a “bigger” or “smarter-sounding” word is going to come off as false because you’re probably going to use the word wrong and it’ll feel forced. Find the correct word – the word that means what you want it to mean. Write as you speak, use your voice. Anything else will sound stilted and inauthentic.


Don’t use words you don’t understand.

Be clear

Write to your own level of sophistication.

Your readers will know the difference.