In starting your blog or your book, I always tell people to just write. For the first draft, don’t worry about the grammar, sentence structure, or readability. That is what a second and third draft are all about. However, I continue to remind my authors to keep their audience in mind when writing. Things like the words they use, the references they make, and of course the complexity of the writing. The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests offer two common tests you can use to assess the level of the readability of our work.
I know we all want to sound smart in our writing, but if people can’t comprehend what you are trying to say, it defeats the purpose. And if people have a hard time understanding your book or blog post, they won’t finish it; and they for sure won’t tell anyone else about it.
A Brief History of Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests
These formulas were originally designed to help the military evaluate the readability of their manuals. It was addressed when many legal documents appeared to be written in a way that was difficult to read and understand. So Dr. Flesch studied all types of writing and came up with a formula that takes into account the number of words per sentence and the number of syllables per word. Some states have laws on the books that various insurance documents need to have a certain Flesch-Kincaid readability score.
There are two different formulas that are used, resulting in two different scores, the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score.
Flesch Reading Ease
The Flesch Reading Ease scores are on a scale of 0-100. The lower the score, the more challenging the text is to read. A score of 70-60 is considered 8th-9th grade reading level. This is an acceptable score for information written for the general population. Keep in mind, longer sentences and longer words produce a lower score.
To give you a point of reference, Reader’s Digest comes in with a score of around 65. Keep in mind, you will want to aim for a lower score if you are writing a book or blog post that is geared towards a more academic audience. Case in point, the Harvard Law Review scores in the low 30’s.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
While this assessment still uses sentence length and word length to calculate the final score, the final number you receive is the grade reading level of your text. Copy written for that received a rating of 8 can be read by 80% of Americans.
How do you Impact Your Flesch-Kincaid Scores
Now that we know what these scores mean, the next question is, how do you modify your writing to increase or decrease your scores to make it easier to read?
- Shorter Sentences
Since both equations use sentence length as a major factor in this calculation, shorten your sentence length to make your text easier to read.
- Use Transition Words
The use of transition words such as for instance, however, therefore, after that, and in conclusion. These words will make your writing flow more easily from one point to the next, making it easier for your reader to follow.
- Use fewer complex words
Finding a more simple word can help make your text easier to read. For example, changing up the word “assistance” with “help” will increase your Flesch Reading Ease score.
- Shorten your paragraphs
Shortening up your paragraphs and even using bullet points to improve readability. Smaller chunks make the reading easier.
- Avoid the “Passive Voice”
Welcome back to English class! Sentences written in a passive voice are usually longer and awkward to read. An active sentence starts with the primary subject followed by a verb.
We eat cookies.
A passive version of this sentence is:
The cookies were eaten by us.Flip it around and keep it simple!
How do I find my Flesch-Kincaid Readability Scores
There are several ways you can find out how your writing ranks.
- Build Into Word Processing Programs
Several word processing and grammar programs have this as a feature of the software. Microsoft Word, Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, and Scrivener are a few that have this feature.
- Online Assessment tools
There are websites where you can paste your text or give them the URL of your blog post and they will give you the scores right away. Here are two to get you started: Webfx.com or Online-Utility.org.
- WordPress Plugins
If you are looking to tighten up your blog posts, you can install the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress that will calculate your readability score, and highlight the sentences that you can modify to make your text more readable.
Is the Readability Really Worth It?
In conclusion, (see that beautiful transition word) you might ask, is all of this extra work really worth it? The answer is YES! If you are creating copy or writing a book that people can’t comprehend, you have wasted every moment you spent writing. By monitoring these readability scores, it might take you a little longer to tighten up your writing, but it could be the one thing that makes all the difference in your reader grasping what you have to say or walking away from your masterpiece.