What is readability?
In simple terms, readability refers to a tool that helps you with your writing. Some people call it a ‘readability checker.’ Officially, it’s the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. A readability checker scores your writing. (Don’t panic!) It simply looks at your writing from a couple of different angles, sentence length, difficult words, and so forth, and scores it for…readability. The scores roughly correspond to a grade level comprehension. For example, former President Obama’s speeches, generally scored at 60 or above, which corresponds to about an eighth grade reading level. It’s fairly widely accepted that a score of 60 and above is an ideal target for most business writing. It’s important to understand that this is not a dumbing down of language. You could make the argument that it’s the opposite. Simple, clear language can be incredibly difficult to achieve.
What are the benefits?
By scoring your writing, you do two things. First, you help yourself stay on track. Second, you raise the odds that your audience will fully get what you’re saying. Let’s say you’re working on an email or a memo, or even more critically, packaging information. And it’s a complicated story and it’s important that your audience understand it all. You finish it and score it. Then you see that it scores in the 30s or 40s. That’s a snapshot of what’s going on and a strong indication you’ve got a draft that is pretty hard to understand for most people. As business writers our first job is to reach people. We have to persuade them. If our audience can’t understand what we’re saying, we’ve lost them. It’s a bit of a blunt instrument. Don’t let it rule your life.
How do I use it?
A readability widget is embedded in Microsoft Word. In preferences, Spelling > Grammar, make sure that the ‘show readability statistics’ box is checked. From that point on, when you use the Spelling & Grammar tool, you’ll get a score. There are many free online readability checkers.
Here are two. ProWritingAid has a free version that includes a readability score. Readability Analyzer is a free, web-based readability checker.
- ProWritingAid – the best grammar checker, style editor, and editing tool in one package.]
This text scored a 60.9 in the Microsoft Word readability checker. In the ProWritingAid tool, it scored a 65. Huzzah!