Simple Language Makes Reading Easier

Clearly written information benefits any website visitor. However, it is particularly important to the many people who generally have trouble understanding written text. This includes:

•    people with cognitive disabilities
•    new readers (children and adults)
•    beginning English students

This article discusses a common method of measuring website readability, via several free tools. It also provides suggestions for improving your site's score.

Flesch Reading Ease

One way to evaluate text readability is the Flesch Reading Ease test.  It measures both syllables and sentence length in a text passage. It then uses a formula to calculate the reading level of the passage. Higher Flesch scores are better; a score of 60 or more is recommended for general use. Test passages of at least 100 words to get a useful result.

Try It Yourself

Juicy Studio has a free Web page that calculates the Flesch score for other Web pages.

Flesh [sic] is a free, downloadable software utility that calculates the Flesch score for files in .DOC, .PDF, .RTF, or .TXT formats.

Microsoft Word 2007 and Outlook 2007 have a Flesch checker built in:

In Outlook:
•    On the Tools menu, click Options.
•    Click the Spelling tab, and then click Spelling and AutoCorrection.
•    Click Proofing.
•    Under When correcting grammar in Outlook, select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
•    Select the “Show readability statistics” check box.
•    Run the Spell Checker. When the checker is finished, it will display reading level information.

In Word:
•    Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Word Options.
•    Click Proofing.
•    Make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
•    Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, select the Show readability statistics check box.
•    Run the Spell Checker. When the checker is finished, it will display reading level information.

Increasing your Flesch Score

Written text can be made easier to understand by:

  • Reducing jargon or other obscure language
  • Using shorter and simpler words. An average of 5 characters and two syllables per word is a good goal.
  • Writing short, simple sentences. Sentences of 17-20 words is a good goal.
  • Limiting the use of metaphors.  Some people with autism have trouble interpreting them.
  • Using the active rather than the passive voice ("Mary saw Fred" rather than "Fred was seen by Mary")
  • Using around 5 sentences per paragraph
  • Using informal writing styles, such as dialog

This is not to say that you should avoid using long words when there is no reasonable synonym. However, most writing can benefit from a readability review.

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