If we were all champion writers, there wouldn’t be so many self-help articles, blogs and writing gurus out in the world to help us improve.
Are you ready to find out how easy it is for someone to read and comprehend your words? Here’s a quick check you can do in just a few minutes.
Whenever I deliver written communication skills training, I inevitably present the free, easy-to-use Readability Statistics option we all have in our word processing software. Why? Because it gives you an immediate idea of how good your writing skills are.
Because that’s the important underlying question: Do you write in a way that ensures your readers understand your key messages as you intend? If you do, you’ll get better results, and they’ll get better results.
Writing Experience, Awareness and Need
I’m lucky to have worked in a foreign country for over a decade, and so I’ve learned how to grade my language and write in shorter sentences. (Okay, most of the time.)
Many native speakers of English have never had to think about how well their messages are understood. Feedback usually arrives when someone who has read our document contacts us to ask questions. This is great, because then we know someone has actually read the document. And when no one calls, we can only assume that the document, our writing and the desired result are clear. But we all know what happens when we ass-u-me, right?
Non-native speakers of English face even bigger challenges. Knowledge of English vocabulary and grammar has a huge impact on readability of documents. Having reviewed and provided feedback on at least a thousand documents here in Europe, it’s clear that the effort required to achieve a similar readability score is much greater.
Whether you write audit reports, scientific reports, marketing documents, proposals or some other kind of document, this check can help you see how easily a reader can understand your writing, RIGHT NOW.
Readability Statistics at a glance
Readability statistics appear at the end of a Spelling & Grammar check in your word processing software, as long as you have activated this setting in Options.
When you get the pop-up with your statistics, you’ll see your Flesh Reading Ease score and average words per sentence, among other statistics. These are the first two statistics I look at.
Flesh Reading Ease (FRE) score
The Flesch Reading Ease formula was developed in 1948 and is considered reliable. It’s based on average sentence length and average syllables per word. The FRE check doesn’t assess word order, grammar, verb tenses, appropriateness of word choice in context, etc., but it does give you a high-level indication of how easy it is to read your document.
The average FRE score of my blogs is 60%. According to the experts, this means I write at a level that an 8th grader should be able to read. Harvard Business Review articles are said to average just over 40%, and Dr. Seuss a perfect 100%. (You can find these results yourself online with a simple search.)
Average words per sentence
My advice is to write less than 20 words per sentence. Whatever guideline you follow for sentence length, you’ll see immediately whether you’ve achieved your goal, or whether you have some editing to do.
How to drive your FRE score UP
There are specific things you can do to drive your FRE score higher, e.g. to achieve your department’s KPI. I worked with one client who had a fixed FRE score as their KPI. If the KPI wasn’t achieved, the report couldn’t be submitted higher up the chain. Since our customized one-day workshop, the team has consistently achieved this KPI.
To get started, begin by writing shorter sentences and using plain English as much as makes sense in your environment. Check out my past article, Techniques to Boost Readability TODAY, for more writing techniques.
Criticism of Readability Statistics
There are some who don’t care about their readability statistics, some who don’t know how to get them, and some who don’t believe in their validity. From my perspective, the statistics can give you a general idea of whether you have a lot of work to do to write more effectively, or whether you are on the right track. It’s a starting point.
How to set up Spelling & Grammar check for Readability Statistics*
- Go to File, scroll down to Options.
- Click on Options, then on Proofing.
- Make sure ‘Show Readability Statistics’ is checked.
- Click OK.
* Exact steps vary depending on which software and version you are using.
How to run Spelling & Grammar check for Readability Statistics
- Go to Review on the main menu.
- Click on Spelling & Grammar.
- Work through the suggestions that come up.
- Review the Readability Statistics box at the end of the process.
For more about how to achieve these kinds of results individually or as a team, please get in touch.
I wish you much success in your written communication!
P.S. My readability statistics on this article before this P.S. are: word count 548, words per sentence 14.0, and FRE 67.6%. I’m happy with that!
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