Enhance Readability: Tests and Tools to Improve Comprehension

Key measures of your writing quality include reader understanding and recall of your message. One of the ways to facilitate maximizing comprehension and recall is to write in easily understandable language. You can conduct various tests to find out how clearly you are writing and how well your audience understands your messages. Most of the tests are short, simple and no-cost or low-cost to run. So there’s no excuse for not doing them! And the tests make you look competent to your peers and senior managers. So it’s in your interest to use quick tests to ensure the readability of your writing.

Improving recall and understanding of your message will ensure the readability of your writing

The key measures of successful communication are your receivers’ recall and comprehension of your message. One of the best ways to achieve this is to include storytelling to convey key themes and messages. You can read more about this in my article, “Storytelling pays off for you.

Readability of your text

When you ensure the readability of your writing, you are creating more depth and strength to your messages. You are no doubt well aware that Microsoft Word offers you substantial assistance to check your text. Just be aware that some of the suggested corrections are actually wrong, so tread warily by using this resource only as a means of bringing possible errors to your attention, not as the fountain of wisdom.

When cutting and pasting from websites, it pays to check whether the language of the text is in US or UK English (or, in my case, Australian English). Otherwise, you may find words like “organisation” (UK and Australian English) being out of place in a piece written in US English, which uses the spelling, “organization.” (A good example: my spell checker has just suggested the “a piece” be rewritten as “apiece,” which is entirely different grammatically and totally inappropriate.)

You can analyze the readability of text to determine whether your messages are written at the right educational level for the target audience. Typical measures include the Flesch Formula and the Fog Index, which are based on the concept that the greater the number of syllables in a word and words in a sentence, the more difficult and less readable the text. The tests typically estimate the number of years of education that a reader would need to easily understand the text.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

This test rates text on a US school grade level. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader can understand the document. For most documents, aim for a score of approximately 7.0 to 8.0.

The formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is:

(.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59

where:

ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)

For best results, you should always aim to keep your language as simple as possible because more people will understand what you have written.

Word document readability

This guidance covers Word for Microsoft 365, Word 2021, Word 2019, Word 2016, Word 2013, and Word 2010.

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  4. Select Show readability statistics.

After you enable this feature, open a file that you want to check, and check the spelling. When Outlook or Word finishes checking the spelling and grammar, it displays information about the reading level of the document.

These basic spelling, grammar and readability checks will help your final version of a text be tight and polished, ready for public consumption. For further details on Microsoft Word’s formula go to Get your document’s readability and level statistics.

Installing an app will ensure the readability of your writing

You can go to Readable for their app to help you produce more reader-friendly content. Apparently, you can start with 7-day free trial, and then a paid subscription at 3 levels starting at US$4 per month for single users, $24 per month for small businesses (3 users), and $69 per month for teams running several websites.

Photo by Pedro Santos on Unsplash.

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

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