Everyone recognizes that correct spelling and proper grammar are essential. A few obvious mistakes in the opening paragraph will quickly sacrifice your credibility. The need to write at the level of our target reader is not as widely recognized. A successful author of children’s books does not write like someone presenting a research paper to the New England Journal Medicine. Your audience lies somewhere in between.
Microsoft Word Spell Check includes three tools to determine reading level. The first two are related. They are the Flesch Reading Ease score and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score. Both are formulas driven by the average words per sentence and syllables per word. Note that semicolons are treated as breaks between sentences, just like periods. The U.S. Navy began using these tools to test the readability of forms and manuals in 1975. Some states set readability standards for insurance policies and legal documents.
The higher the Flesch Reading Ease score, the easier it is to read. For example, the sentence “See Spot run’” scores 100. Scores of 60 to 70 are at a 13 to 15 year old level. Scores of 30 or less indicate a college graduate level. Time magazine scores around 50. The Harvard Law Review is in the low 30s.
The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level corresponds directly to the appropriate grade level. An 8.2 indicates comfortable reading for an eighth grader. A score above 12 requires college level reading skills. At the other extreme, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss is a negative 1.3. I target scores between 9 and 10 in my writing. This article is a 9.1.
Word’s third tool is the Passive Sentences Readability score. This formula is the ratio of passive to active sentences, expressed as a percentage. Low scores indicate high readability. A score above 15% is difficult to read. This article scored 0.0%, very unusual for my writing style.
I’m taking a long weekend, so I’ll see you again on Wednesday. Have a great weekend!
© 2011 by Dale R. Schmeltzle
About the Author: Dale R. Schmeltzle, CPA is the managing member of CFO America, LLC. His 35 year career as a consultant and employee includes senior financial management and operating responsibilities in a variety of companies ranging from major divisions of multi-national conglomerates to startups.