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Quick tests to check your readability

23 Feb, 2015 PR measurement, Writing and layout

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

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.

Photo by Pedro Santos on Unsplash.

You can conduct many 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.

Readability of your text

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.

Document readability

In Word contained in Microsoft Office Home and Business 2016, and as far back as Word 2013, you can set up document readability by doing this:

  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 such formulae, do a Google search.

This article updated in 2020.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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