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Readability

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." Mark Twain

Reading Level Algorithms: Readability is study of how easy it is to read and understand a document. Readability tests use mathematical formulas to calculate the the average number of words in a sentence, and the average number of syllables per word.

The formulas were originally created in the 1920s to determine the suitability of schoolbooks for students.

Being mathematically based, readability tests are unable to determine the likelihood that a document is comprehensible, interesting, or enjoyable. The tests tend to favor short sentences made up of short words.

For a document to be easily understood, the writing style should be clear and simple. The structure of the document should be logical, and avoid repetition.

These factors cannot be measured using readability tests. However, readability tests help us the reading ease for a document. Long words, sentences and paragraphs are an indication the text may be difficult to read. On the web, we need to make every word count!

The most famous reading level algorithms are the Flesch Reading Ease, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level and the Gunning-Fog Index (also a grade level test). More On Readability

Flesch Reading Ease

  • Calculate the average number of words you use per sentence.
  • Calculate the average number of syllables per word.
  • Multiply the average number of syllables per word multiplied by 84.6 and subtract it from the average number of words multiplied by 1.015.
  • Subtract the result from 206.835.

The result is an index number that rates the text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Writers aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70.

Flesch-Kincaid grade level

  • Calculate the average number of words you use per sentence.
  • Calculate the average number of syllables per word.
  • Multiply the average number of words by 0.39 and add it to the average number of syllables per word multiplied by 11.8.
  • Subtract 15.50 from the result.

The result is the Flesch-Kincaid grade level. Like the Gunning-Fog index, it is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. Negative results are reported as zero, and numbers over twelve are reported as twelve.

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.

The result is your Gunning-Fog index, which is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. 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.

If you have a Gunning-Fog Index of more than 12, you run a serious risk of not being understood – or even being read at all!

Most newspapers write at the 8th to 10th grade understanding level, and at fifth to eighth grade reading ease. This is because most people won’t read the article if they have to work to read it!

Here are the Wikipedia definitions of the Main Readability Tests:

Readability Tools: Readability formulas are built into Microsoft Word, and there are even some tools on the web that we can use! Here are a couple of online tools:

Happy Talk & Bullsh*t : Happy talk refers to unnecessary text that conveys no new information. Bullsh*t (sometimes just the more appropriate 'bull') refers to far-fetched or misleading information. Both should be avoided in web documents!

 

   
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