Last Updated on: November 10th, 2015Is your writing “readable”? How do you know?
To introduce the concept of readability, I have some more questions for you.
Have you ever used “big” words in an attempt to seem smarter than you are? Have you ever looked up a word in the dictionary . . . and then had to look up the words found in its definition?
I can see most of you nodding your heads. I can see a few smiles, too. 😉
Now let me ask you:
- Have you ever wondered if the words you choose to use are too difficult for others to read and/or understand?
- Have you ever wondered what others really think of your writing (whether it’s found in a blog post, an ebook, a novel, an essay, an article, etc.)?
- Have you ever read something that was hard to understand (because of all the words you didn’t know the definitions to)?
I bet all of your answers to these questions are “yes.”
But . . . do you know what “readability” really is?
What this post on readability will do for you
This post will:
- teach you what readability is
- discuss some history behind how readability is measured
- indicate the different methods for how readability can be measured
- give you links to the free, online readability calculators that writers, bloggers, and freelancers should use
- two additional articles you can read to expand your mind, and
- it will also mention a brief announcement from Wording Well
You NEED to Consider Readability
Have you ever seriously contemplated the readability of your blog post, books, or articles, and then tailored your writing to your specific audience?
If you are shaking your head shamefully, that’s okay; most people don’t.
Perhaps you didn’t know what to do. Perhaps you didn’t know that you could check the readability of your text.
Perhaps – and this is the more likely option – you’ve never really considered what readability means, how it affects your readers, and how important it actually is.
If you are an author, blogger, writer, freelancer, student (or wannabe author, blogger, writer, freelancer or student), there are a few critical things you should know about readability.
What is Readability?
Readability is the measure of written language that makes it easy to read and understand.
Readability tests, which are mathematical formulas, were designed to assess the suitability of books for students at particular grade levels or ages. They were also meant to save time – because before the formula were used those decisions were made on recommendations of educators and librarians who read the books. These people were taking books already written and figuring out who were the appropriate reading groups.~ Source: All About Readability
The tests were intended to help educators, librarians and publishers make decisions about purchase and sale of books.
Readability, however, is dependent upon many characteristics: age, race, culture, and education. The use of slang also plays a part in readability. I think we all know that each culture (heck, even each generation!) has its own slang words or phrases!
Slang refers to a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people. To brush up on or learn some American slang, I’d recommend opting to get 10 randomly chosen slang expressions from their database. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn!
Of the 288 factors that were identified, format or design factors were found to be among the three most important clusters of contributors to making a text easier or more difficult to read.
Reading and Writing
One of the reasons I love reading and writing stems from my love for word. When I read and write, I get to be exposed to more words!
When I encounter a word I’ve never heard of, I look it up so that I can add it to my lexicon. I also try to use it correctly in a sentence.
These two practices are something most teachers instruct their students to do in elementary school, and, in fact, were taught to me by my teachers.
They have stuck with me throughout the years, too. I love adding words to my lexicon, and I love using those words properly. When I am writing, I often search for synonyms to use to enhance my writing. However, I try not to use too many “big” words, for two reasons:
- Most people won’t understand what I’m saying.
- Keeping things simple makes for a more widespread understanding. Most people are not university educated (like I am). Many people cannot read complex sentences. Some people cannot read at all. (Of course, those people won’t be reading this!)
It is estimated that 17-20% of the people in the world cannot read or write.
It is also said that 774 million people cannot read. Considering that there are about 7 billion (7 000 000 000 000) people in this world, that’s a lot; it’s about 10%. That means one-tenth of the people in this world cannot read.
(Side note: if the world consisted of 100 people, this is who it would consist of.)
According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, some stats for the United States in 2013 are as follows:
- 63 % of prison inmates can’t read (about 64 million people)
- 19% of high school graduates can’t read (about 43 million people)
No wonder a lot of authors are having a tough time selling their books!
Readability in Blogging, + a History Lesson
Some bloggers may have contemplated the concept of readability, especially website owners who use a plugin called WordPress SEO by Yoast (a free download), which checks the readability of a blog post using the Flesch Reading Ease Score formula.
The Flesch Reading Ease Score
The Flesch Reading Ease Score formula takes into account the number of sentences, the number of words in each sentence, and how many syllables are in each word. Rudolf Franz Flesch, its creator, was an author, a readability expert, and a writing consultant. He created the Flesch Reading Ease test and was co-creator of the Flesch-Kincaid readability test called the Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level test.
Flesch advocated use of phonics rather than sight reading, to enable students to sound out unfamiliar words. Both of the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests determine how difficult a word is for readers to understand.
Flesch wrote a book called Why Johnny Can’t Read. Why Johnny Still Can’t Read may be of interest to educators, parents, and others wanting to foster a love of reading and teach this critical skill to others.
The Dale–Chall readability formula
The Dale–Chall readability formula is a readability test that was inspired by Rudolf Flesch’s Flesch–Kincaid readability test. The Dale–Chall readability formula provides a numeric gauge of the comprehension difficulty that readers will have when reading a text, and uses a list of words that groups of fourth-grade American students could reliably understand, considering any word not on that list to be difficult.
The SMOG Readability Formula
The SMOG Readability Formula estimates the years of education a person needs to understand a piece of writing. The SMOG Formula was created by G. Harry McLaughlin in 1969, who asserts that there is no need to follow Flesch’s system of counting every syllable in a passage in order to obtain a valid measure of its semantic difficulty. The SMOG Readability Formula is considered appropriate for secondary age (4th grade to college level) readers, and generally uses 30 sentences as its base, although there are steps to follow if the text being graded is shorter than 30 sentences.
SMOG Grading implicitly makes two claims; that counting polysyllabic words in a fixed number of sentences gives an accurate index of the relative difficulty of various texts; and that the formula for converting polysyllable counts into grades gives acceptable results. Both claims had to be tested.
The Gunning-Fog Index
The Gunning-Fog index is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand your writing. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors. (Results over seventeen are reported as seventeen, where seventeen is considered post-graduate level.)
According to this website, the following is the algorithm to determine the Gunning-Fog index:
- Calculate the average number of words you use per sentence.
- Calculate the percentage of difficult words in the sample (words with three or more syllables).
- Add the totals together, and multiply the sum by 0.4.
- Algorithm: (average_words_sentence + number_words_three_syllables_plus) * 0.4
Who has time to do all of these calculations? Not me! Probably not you, either! It’s a good thing for us, then, that someone created some free calculators, huh? 😉
Free Readability Calculators
Readability may not always be at the forefront of the minds of writers and authors. But it should be. Bloggers, authors, and writers of all types can use one (or more) of the following free readability calculators to check the readability of their text:
- Readability-Score.com is the easiest to use. Paste your text, hit “enter” and see the results on the site!
- Dale-Chall Readability Calculator
- Text Readability Consensus Calculator (uses 7 popular readability formulas)
- Gunning Fog Index Calculator (remember, score relates to how many years of schooling is needed to understand your text)
- Readability Calculator – This particular calculator provides a breakdown of your text and offers suggestions as to what sentences should be changed.
The awesome thing about these calculators is that all you have to do is copy and paste a sampling of your writing into them and your readability score is automatically calculated.
You can also test the readability of a website. All you have to do is enter its URL.
Articles of Interest (To Expand Your Mind)
Readability – A PDF written by John J. Pikulski, Ph.D., Professor at the University of Delaware
All About Readability – By Cheryl Stephens
What’s Your Take?
Have you ever considered readability before? If so, when?
If not, are you going to use the free readability calculators in the future? Why or why not?
I really want to hear from you.
Don’t forget about my offer to get some free editing from me!
A Special Announcement from Wording Well
Wording Well is going to be publishing posts on Mondays from now on.
True Tales Tuesdays (with the occasional Featured Friday) will continue on Laying It Out There, so if you are not following that blog yet, please do!
Remember, sharing is caring, too, so please share the goodness in this post with your friends, followers, and colleagues.