Free tool of the week: Readability tests

flickr/energeticspell

flickr/energeticspell

 

The growth of information overload means we all should strive for simplicity and clarity in communication.

With the deluge of email and IM, one company actually found that the best way to communicate with its employees was through large, simple, hand-lettered posters in the hallways. 

These days, less is more. That’s true of writing as well. In just a couple of years, online readers have moved from long websites to shorter blogs to microblogs of 140 characters or less.

So, rule number one is keep things short and useful.

Rule number two is keep things easy.

That’s where readability tests come in. Developed by Rudolph Flesch in the 1940s to promote clear writing, the Flesch Reading Ease Score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score can rescue your prose from long words, jargon, and complex sentences. This is a challenge for nonprofits and foundations, where staff often have deep expertise and are steeped in “insider” language. Mary Ann Hogan wrote a great piece on this called “Why Foundation Bigs Should Use Little Words.”

You may already use Flesch scores on your major documents. For those who don’t, you’d be amazed how simple it is to get these two scores. They’re built into your Word toolbar, under the tools section. Go to spelling and grammar, and after the spellcheck of your document, your Flesch scores automatically appear. 

If you’re using Vista, when you’re in your document, click the Windows button in your upper left corner, select word options at the bottom of the window, choose proofing and make sure that the “Show readability statistics” is checked in the “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” section. At the end of the spellcheck, both Flesch scores automatically appear.

The Flesch Reading Ease Score measures the difficulty of understanding a document and uses a scale of 0 to 100. The lower the score, the harder the document. Examples: Harvard Law Review=30, Time magazine=52, and Readers Digest=65. The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level gives the years of education needed to understand a document. For example, a score of 10 would require a 10th grade education to comprehend. A Reading Ease Score in the range of 40–50 would correspond to a document that might score a 12 as its Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

It’s recommended that today’s writers aim at 6th-to 8th-grade levels. Keeping your writing this easy to understand is critical. People decide in a second or two whether to read something, so you’d better  communicate its importance in those few seconds.

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One Response to “Free tool of the week: Readability tests”

  1. Rick Schwartz Says:

    Hi Gayle. Brilliant, as always. It’s amazing how little you have to do to improve readability. Eliminate passive sentences. Write short sentences. Try to replace “it” wherever you see it used. Start a new paragraph as soon as you start a new thought.

    You don’t “dumb down” your writing. You make it a pleasure to read!


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