With each entry, I check its Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level to determine the grade level of education someone needs to get a good understanding of it from my writing style. If it’s above grade 12, I work it down to make it easier to read and improve my writing skills.
Before I get into the value of grade reading level, let me just say grade reading level is how easy something is to read, not necessarily understand. I could explain quantum mechanics to you using Dr Seuss’ language style, for example, and it would be easy to read since single syllabic words and short sentences with few subordinate clauses are used. However, trying to understand quantum mechanics taught to you that way? Good luck. Similar things can be said about a lot of poetry.
So why do I test my writing with Flesch-Kincaid?
It’s not because I think my readers are stupid. However, no matter at what level you read, if I can make it easier for you, I can make it more efficient and likely enjoyable for you. As well, I’m doing it to help myself by developing better communication skills.
My free thoughts are often unnecessarily big and convoluted, typical of a strong Myers-Briggs iNtuitive personality type that I am. I can focus to organize and truncate them, but it is not natural to me. Knowing from the start of each entry that my writing will be put through a readability test before posting has really helped me focus. In less than a month, I’ve gone from grade 16 first drafts (university degree level) to grade 10 so I don’t have to edit most drafts for readability. I haven’t chosen easier topics. I’m simply writing better! I’ve kept my words and sentences shorter, as well as employed some other plain language and effective writing techniques I will discuss in future posts. Writing at high school grades 10-12 level has almost become natural to me now!
But isn’t grade 10-12 reading level a little insulting to the readers?
Not if you knew the average adult in America reads at a grade 8-9 level!
(Check Q9 of Pfizer Quiz)
“Adult Literacy in America (NALS)” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Dept of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (NCES 1993-275), April 2002.
Or that one in seven adult Americans (32 million) have such low literacy skills they cannot adequately read and understand a newspaper story, anything more difficult than a children’s picture book or a medication’s side effects listed on a pill bottle.
(USA Today, Jan 9 2008; US Federal study)
Even at the level I am allowing myself to blog at, grades 10-12, the average American can’t functionally read what I’m saying! Is that any way to try to draw an audience?
Some may say blog readers are smarter than the average person, or at least have better reading skills. They may be forgiven for that. After all, blog readers are reading to start with so they not only need reading skills, they are improving them. Still, that’s disrespectful to push your readers’ limits when you can push yours the other way to be a little mindful and write simpler. Content is ultimately key to a blog’s success, but while I have seen lots of tips and articles on subject matter and organization and such, I’ve hardly found anything on grade reading level. In fact, I didn’t. I came up with the idea to check my writing’s grade reading level since I am not the greatest of writers. I only did the search after this post and added these references in having been surprised.
Now, I’m sure all my readers are brilliant, smile, but that’s no excuse for me to test them each time out. I want my readers to enjoy the experience of reading my writing and to understand it with as little effort and time as possible. The easiest way to do this, though not the most impacting way like subject matter and narrative style, is to reduce the grade reading level required to understand your blog entries. The simplest way to check may just be to use a Flesch-Kincaid grade reading level script.
How do I get an entry’s Flesch-Kincaid grade reading level?
I use the University of Texas’ TxReadability website. I just copy all my post text and paste into a box at the link above, checking off the Text Only choice before clicking Analyze. Just for my blogging purposes alone, I’m going to use that site so much they should at least give me a link!
The TxReadability site also has a different option. It uses the Forcast Readability Formula to gauge the readability of an entire web page, accounting for words that do not belong in a sentence. Just provide the test with a website’s URL. Fun to test out with some of your favourite sites, that’s for sure! Here are some I either use a lot or have chosen to compare, from content present on the evening of Jan 6 2009.
- Yahoo! Canada (ca.yahoo.com) = 8.2
- Dalhousie University (dal.ca) = 12
- NFL (nfl.com) = 11.1
- CNN (ccn.com) = 10.8
- Globe & Mail Newspaper (theglobeandmail.com) = 10.7
- CBC (cbc.ca) = 11.3
Endless fun from scrutiny, no doubt! How’s about the NFL site being more challenging to read than CNN? Are American football fans that smart? 🙂
What grade level do you blog at?
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 8.0 (Cha-CHING!!!)