Use this tool to increase your readability

Dennis Schrag/Tree Full of Owls

This article has a readability scale of 7.2.

I write between the sixth and eighth grade levels. I know my readers. They are not unschooled. They are busy. They expect me to do the heavy lifting when it comes to writing. They expect me to make my document simple and easy to understand.

If you communicate in writing with employees, customers, prospects, regulators or the general public, read on.

In today’s busy environment, reading documents rapidly is essential. Understanding fast- read documents is critical. Few readers will spend minutes sorting out the author’s language or meaning. People are not likely to back up and re-read a passage. They just will not do it.

They will set the document down and pick up the next one. The responsibility for readable documents falls on the writer not the reader.

What is a readability scale? Readability is the ease in which text can be read and understood. There are many readability scales. The one most often used was developed in the early 1940s by Rudolf Flesch. The scales typically use several factors:

–Number of syllables in the words

–Number of words in a sentence

–Number of sentences in a paragraph

Readability scales are typically defined in terms of grade level and month. So a 6.6 readability scale means the document is readable by someone in the sixth grade, sixth month. Readability scales were originally developed for educational text book publishers and school librarians. Matching student reading ability to their instructional material is a good thing.

Want to write so others can and will read and understand the document? Use simple words. Create short sentences. Compose short paragraphs.

How can an author find the readability of their documents? If you compose on a computer, you can discover the readability easily. All versions of Microsoft Word have a feature that calculates the document’s readability. Like most features in Microsoft Word, you must check the correct box to make it functional.

Draft your document for meaning. Do a mind dump. Get your ideas on the screen. Then go back and edit those ideas using simple words and short sentences. Studies show that most adults can easily understand sentences with 18 or few words. Make sure each paragraph has no more than four sentences. Bullet points are a great tool, because they are easy to read and understand. (The previous sentence has 14 words.)

Set your software’s spell checker to include readability: On older versions of Microsoft Word, on the navigational bar, find the category that includes spelling. Spell check your document and make the corrections. A dialogue box will pop up. Select options. The options page is full of features. Each will have an optional check box. Find “Show Readibility Statistics.” Check the box. Run the spell check feature again. After correcting spelling errors, an information box appears. It provides data on your document. The readability scale is included.

On newer versions of Microsoft Word, depress the Window’s Button on the top left of the screen. At the very bottom of the options box, select “Word Options” On the left column, select “Proofing” Place a check mark in the box associated with “Show Readability Statistics.”

Your readers will appreciate how friendly your writing is.

Dennis Schrag is president of the Longview Group of Iowa City. E-mail him at