April 28, 2016

A mild obsession with readability.

I have to admit something. I may have a mild obsession with readability. The truth is...I am a waffler.

My grammar can be all over the place, I use terrible analogies, and over-complicate even simple things.

It has caused me problems over the years trying to communicate ideas and win people around.

Focusing on readability pushes me to communicate more clearly everywhere.

Proposals, Emails, Presentations, Blogs, Case Studies, Tweets, Reports; I am hacking up my writing to make it easier to understand.

So why do I think readability is important?

Some very basic principles for now:

  1. What you say should be compelling, not how you say it.
  2. Readability does not comprise rhetoric.
  3. We often use language to preserve status and hierarchy; language should be the great leveler.
  4. Communicating in Plain English means that more people can understand and share your idea (although story is a much better medium).
  5. When people can talk about the same thing in common terms, they have more agency to act on the information. See Behaviour Driven Development's - ItsAllBehaviour

How do you even measure readability?

There are a number of formulas to measure how readable a piece of text is.

Flesch Reading Ease

If your text scores high, the easier it is to read. If it scores low, then it is harder to read.

Score School Level Notes
90.0–100.0 5th grade Very easy to read. Easily understood by an average 11-year-old student.
80.0–90.0 6th grade Easy to read. Conversational English for consumers.
70.0–80.0 7th grade Fairly easy to read.
60.0–70.0 8th & 9th grade Plain English. Easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students.
50.0–60.0 10th to 12th grade Fairly difficult to read.
30.0–50.0 college Difficult to read.
0.0–30.0 college graduate Very difficult to read. Best understood by university graduates.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

This uses the USA school grade system to rank how easy a text is to read.

The higher the grade, the more challenging your text is to read. If your text grades higher than 10, you are no longer talking 'plain English'.

Read more about the Flesch-Kincaid formulas for calculating readability

See other formulas for assessing readability

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word already has Readability Statistics in the Spelling and Grammar tool. You just need to switch it on.

A screenshot of Microsoft Word's preference window.

Open Microsoft Word preferences. Select Spelling and Grammar.

A screenshot inside the Spelling and Grammar options for Microsoft Word.

Check the box to Show Readability Statistics.

A screenshot of the writing style detailed options to measure readability on.

You can go into detailed settings to define the writing style type of your document (if you like).

Now after you run the spelling and grammar check, you will see a window with your readability stats.

Hemingway App

Hemingway App uses Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grading to show you where to make your text easier to read.

It uses the scoring to highlight difficult sentences.

You can use the web interface to run a quick check or download the Desktop editor for Mac and Windows.
A screenshot of the Hemingway App website.

I would encourage you to put your writing to the test.

This post scored 68.8 for Flesch Reading Ease and 6.3 on the F-K Grade.

I'm thinking about making a plugin for Ghost using the F-K formulas to help me (and maybe others) draft readable posts. Plus it would have the pretty cool name of ghost-flesch. Does that sound interesting and helpful?
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