Image shows a block of text highlighted in pinky-red. Text overlaying it reads, “Before & After. Be clear to keep it confidential. New in April 2024 Wordnerdery.”A non-disclosure agreement or NDA is a common contract between contractors and large companies. It’s kind of a prenup covering the relationship, where we writers and other contractors promise not to divulge the secrets to be shared with us.

You can bet the lawyers have this buttoned down to protect the company every which way. But how are they doing at coming up with a contract everyone can understand?

In my experience, not well. Exhibit A: An opening sentence that’s 144 words, flagged by the Hemingway Editor’s pinky-red alert as extremely difficult to read:

The Recipient shall keep confidential all Confidential Information received from the Disclosing Party or others acting on its or their behalf and shall not either directly or indirectly disclose any Confidential Information to any other person without the prior written consent of the Disclosing Party except that Confidential Information may be disclosed without the Disclosing Party’s consent to the Recipient’s directors, officers, employees, consultants or advisors only to the extent that such disclosure is required in order to evaluate the Confidential Information as due diligence for any possible business relationship between the parties or in connection with such business relationship (it being understood that such directors, officers, employees, consultants or advisors shall be bound by this Agreement and that the Recipient shall be responsible for any breach of this Agreement by any of the Recipient’s directors, officers, employees, consultants or advisors.

It’s in the company’s best interests to make sure the “Recipient” clearly understands what’s involved in keeping things confidential. Studies show that the best sentence length for that understanding is an average eight to 14 words. At 10 times that desired length, this opening sentence doesn’t do it.

Text with high readability is “clear, concise, and easily understandable, making it accessible to a broader audience.” So says a post on how to use the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula, which determines reading ease. Applying this formula to the 144-word sentence results in a score of minus 89.7 out of 100, “readable” at the mythical grade level 61.5. The Hemingway Editor considers this “post-graduate.” That’s the level of “light reading” found in scholarly journals.

In the April issue of my newsletter, Wordnerdery, I rewrite this monster sentence to make it easier to understand. The result is half the number of words divided into five sentences, with an average sentence length of 14.8 words. Have a look and let me know how you think it came out.

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