Writing “easy” text is not so easy

Today, I tested the readability of the “easy” text for the home page of the Clear Helper Web site.  I decided to use Standard-Schmandard’s Readability Index Calculator because of the trouble I reported in my post, “Juicy Studio Readability Test: Contradictory Results“.

I entered the home page’s easy text and chose the Flesch-Kincaid (English) test. Results:

  • Grade level: 13
  • Reading Ease score: 44

The Grade Level score indicates a person would have to reach the 13th grade (in the U.S.) to understand the text. The Reading Ease score, for which higher means easier, fell in between comics (score = 90) and legalese (score = below 10) according to Standards Schmandards.  I was disappointed the text I wrote scored so poorly.

I then removed all three-syllable words.  Results:

  • Grade level: 11
  • Reading Ease score: 55

These were still not the scores for which I was hoping.  I’m having a difficult time finding information on which levels of scores would be good for people with intellectual disabilities, but I know even the last set are too high.

My next step is to attempt to simplify the text, then try another readability test.  Results will be posted.

Note: This is a follow-up to the post, “Switching Between Standard- & Plain Language Versions: 1st Attempt“.

2 thoughts on “Writing “easy” text is not so easy

  1. John, don’t worry about reading scores. The Flesch-Kincaid and Fogg scales consider only these two aspects of your writing:

    – the average number of words per sentence
    – the average number of syllables per word

    Reading scores can’t tell you when your readers have gotten annoyed by your short, choppy sentences. Reading scores can’t tell you when breaking one sentence into two will cause your readers to lose the link between two related concepts. And reading scores can’t tell you when your avoiding three-syllable words has removed all value from your text.

    Think of it this way: Hemingway is quite readable. Typically his readability scores would be in the high primary grades — that is, 5 or 6 or so. But primers are even more readable. Typically their readability scores are 0.1 or 0.2.

    Which would you rather read for relaxation — “The Old Man and the Sea,” or “Dick and Jane”?

    So follow the advice of Ginny Redish’s “Writing for the Web” to produce clear text. Then forget what the reading scores say. You will have the clearest possible accurate presentation of your content.

  2. The scores are a useful rough guide only. What I would call ‘Easy read” is as much about boiling down the content to its essentials, and providing some graphics as reinforcement, as it is about language levels. Also language is about simplicity in the best sense, but also about using vocabulary the audience is familiar with

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