Readability: Why It’s So Important
How checking readability statistics will amplify your message
Your articles aren’t getting the traffic you expected?
You’ve noticed that your page time is too short and your bounce rate too high?
There are a few reasons for that:
- Your content is not SEO optimized
- Your webpage’s design is confusing and hard to navigate
- You’re not including enough inbound, outbound, or internal links to redirect traffic through and around your site
Chances are one of these is the main reason you’re not growing as much as you could (and should).
But there’s another reason that’s often overlooked: readability.
What is it?
Readability is the quality of being legible.
In short, high readability means the reader can easily understand your content; low readability means they can’t.
Are your sentences too convoluted to understand? Are you using long words to fill up half your page? Is your writing NOT accessible, digestible, and direct?
If yes is the answer, your content readability is probably too low.
And trust me, as a liberal arts college student I know what that’s like.
What are readability tools?
Like most things, there are a couple of ways around low readability. Checking for readability is one.
Readability tools are algorithms that scan a text for sentence length and word length, as well as punctuation, paragraph length, and grammar (passive voice).
Most readability tools use two tests: the Flesch Reading Ease and the Flesch-Kincaid grade level.
I didn’t know about his until a few weeks ago, but I wish I’d found out before I started writing!
How do you check readability statistics?
I’m going to tell you how to check readability statistics on Microsoft Word because it’s estimated that over 1 billion people use it.
Unfortunately, Google Docs doesn’t have an in-built readability index calculator.
If you do not use Word, scroll to the bottom for a list of online tools where you can copy and paste any text and get readability scores right away.
Mac (most updated version to date)
- Once you open your Word document, click on Review under the document’s title.
You’ll see Spelling and Grammar on the top left.
2. Click it.
Word will automatically do a spelling and grammar check. It will only show you the readability statistics once the check is over.
3. Once the spelling and grammar check is complete, a readability statistics window will pop up.
3a. If the window doesn’t pop up, mistype a random word and click the Spelling and Grammar icon again.
3b. On the next window, click Options.
3c. Under Grammar, check the Show Readability Statistics box.
3d. Run your grammar check one last time. Then you should see the readability window pop up.
1. Open your Word document and click File on the top left.
2. Click Options on the bottom left.
3. Click Proofing on the drop-down menu on the left.
4. Check the Show Readability Statistics box. Then close the window.
5. Click Review and hit Spelling and Grammar.
6. Once the grammar check is complete, the readability statistics will display.
What these scores mean
That’s a lot of numbers. But what do they actually mean?
Flesch Reading Ease & Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
These two tests are inversely proportional. The higher the Reading Ease score is, the lower the Grade Level score should be.
The Flesch Reading Ease goes from 0.00 to 100.00. The higher, the more comprehensible.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level indicates a text’s readability based on (US) school grade levels. It goes from 5th grade to University Graduate.
100.00 / 5th grade — 90.00 / 6th grade — 80.00 / 7th grade — … — 10.00 / Professional
The 50.00–80.00 / 10th–7th grade range is recommended for websites and articles.
That’s the range you want to aim for.
The readability statistics also include averages of sentences per paragraph, word per sentence, and characters per word.
For business and article writing, words shouldn’t be more than 5–8 characters long.
A sentence shouldn’t be more than 15–20 words long.
And a paragraph shouldn’t be more than 3–5 sentences long.
(Don’t forget, these are just numerical guidelines. Don’t take them too seriously.)
Readability Online Calculators
Here’s a list of free online readability calculators for those of you who don’t use Word.
Gunning Fog Index (my favorite)
These tools work most quickly with long-form articles, but you can also use them for your website’s headlines and shorter text bubbles. Just copy and paste the text into your word processor or an online readability index and you’re good to go!
They can help you catch a reader’s attention and boost your message by a lot.
The higher readability, the more user-friendly your content will be. The more user-friendly, the broader its reach.
Best of all, they’re free!
Bonus tip: If you’re trying to publish an article in a newspaper or magazine, try checking their average readability. Copy and paste a few articles from their ‘most popular’ and compare their readability stats with yours. Of course, just having the same scores won’t guarantee your publication. But you can get a good idea of how top writers write as well as how much editing you should be doing.