Let’s Clear the Fog

26 November 2009 

Word count:  560

Estimated reading time:  4-5 minutes


Writing clearly should be our primary aim as writers.  But how can we know if our writing really is clear? 


I go into great detail about ways to TRIM a document in Business Writing with TASTE, including using ‘readability statistics’ tools.  Recently, one of our readers asked me to clarify those tools, since some of the terms are hard to understand (for example, ‘Flesch reading ease’).

I apologise for not being clear about this the first time around!  


So let’s look at just one of those tools – the one provided with Microsoft Word to check how easy (or difficult) it is to read your documents.


Setting up the tool

To set up this tool on Microsoft Word, follow these steps:

1.  Click the ‘Word’ menu at the top of the screen, and open ‘Preferences’.

2.  Click ‘Spelling & Grammar’ (under ‘Authoring & Proofing Tools’).

3.  Tick the box ‘Show readability statistics’ (under ‘Grammar’).

4.  Click ‘OK’.


Getting your readability statistics

To get your readability statistics on any document, you’ll need to do a spell check on it.  When you’ve finished writing, click on the ‘Tools’ menu and click ‘Spelling & Grammar’.  When the spell check is finished, you will see a ‘Readability Statistics’ box that looks like this.


What it all means

The ‘Counts’ and ‘Averages’ sections are very straightforward.  The document I took this from had a total of 1,254 words, for example.  And the average number of words per sentence was 10.4.


The ‘Readability’ section is a bit more complex.


Passive Sentences

In the document, 9% of the sentences were written in passive voice.  My preference is for this to be 0% -- but sometimes we have to use passive voice (eg, if you don’t know who did the action).  If you get a high percentage of passive sentences in your document (more than about 15%), go back to see if you can write them in active voice.  It’s much easier to read.


Flesch Reading Ease

The Flesch Reading Ease score is calculated by a mathematical formula using the number of syllables and sentence lengths to determine how easy it is to read the sample.  I won’t go into the math here.  All you really need to know is this: 

µ  A score in the range of 60-70 corresponds to 8th/9th grade English level.  

µ  A score between 50 and 60 corresponds to a 10th/12th grade level.  

µ  Below 30 is university graduate level.  


A Flesch score of 60 is considered ‘plain English’ – so aim for that score or higher.


The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level indicates that the average student in the grade level produced by the scale can read the text. This score is also calculated by a mathematical formula using average sentence length and average number of syllables per word.  Again, I won’t go into the math.  But just remember – try to aim for a 9th grade level or lower (that’s Form 3 for those of you in Hong Kong).


How does this blog post score?

This post contains 560 words, with an average of 13.8 words per sentence.  11% of the sentences are in passive voice (boo!).  The reading ease is 66.7 (yay!).  And I wrote it at a 7th grade level (Form 1) (yay!).

Copyright 2014 DeGolyer Associates Ltd |  Contact Deborah at:  writewithtaste@me.com