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How Do You Measure Readability?

When writing, you want to make sure your writing is readable, or easily understood, clear and legible for targeted readers. But how do you measure that? Sure, you could read a few sentences and say, “It seems readable to me, I guess,” but there are actually tools out there you can use to put a number to the readability of your writing.

My tool of preference is in Microsoft Word.  The major readability statistics are Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. For the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level statistics to come up in the “Spelling & Grammar” review of your content you will need to enable those statistics. To do this select “File” then “Options” next go to the “Proofing” tab and check the box that says “Show readability statistics.”

Flesch-Kincaid scores are readability tests designed to show how easy or difficult a text is to read. This score is given in two different ways. First is the “Flesch Reading Ease” and the other is “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level”.

The Reading Ease number is from 0 to 100. With a score of 90 to 100 your writing could be understood by an average 11-year old and a score of 60 to 70 could be understood by average 13 to 15-year olds. A score of zero to 30 means your writing could be understood by a university graduate.  The higher the score the easier the writing is to read and comprehend.

To give you an idea of where some major publications fall in this range Reader’s Digest has a Flesch Reading Ease around 65, Time magazine has a score of 52 and the Harvard Law Review falls somewhere in the low 30s.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level applies a reading grade level to your writing. New York Times articles have a tenth-grade reading level and romance novels have about a fifth-grade reading level. A sixth-grade student could understand content with a Flesch Reading Ease of 60 to 70.

Now what? So you know how to measure readability, but how do you improve the readability scores of your writing? It ultimately comes down to what you’re writing about. Content about astrophysics is going to be more complex and have a higher reading level than some other subjects so always keep in mind the subject of your writing. 

A great starting point is to ask, “Would someone new to this subject understand what I’m saying?” You need a balance with readability. You don’t want to write your content too industry-specific, but you also do not want to write for a five-year old because then your writing might lack professionalism.

To improve Flesch-Kincaid scores, try getting your message across in as few words as possible. Sentences should err on the shorter side as well. When it comes to paragraph lengths, shorter is better here also. Shorter paragraphs make reading seem to go by more quickly and are less intimidating to readers. Our final tip is to pick out complex words and replace them with shorter, simpler synonyms.

So why does this all matter again? Making sure that your content is readable to your users is important when it comes to holding your reader’s attention and making them want to read your material. When we write blog articles for SEO purposes, it is all about user experience. The better experience a user has on your site, the more it will help your website’s performance in the search engines.  By keeping your articles clear, concise and easy to follow you can ensure that readers will understand your products and services. So whether you are writing an article for your company blog or creating new content for your website readability is an important factor for Google. Great content is not considered great until it is read and understood!

For reference, this article has a reading ease score of 62.5 and a grade level of 8.7, which fits in with our recommendation. Try to keep your reading ease score between 30 and 60 and your grade level around eighth grade.  Find out more about why content is so important or contact us for more information!