Writing in Plain English
Jan 17, 2014
I was playing around in MS Word the other day and noticed an option to include readability statistics when doing a spelling and grammar check. I decided to mark the box and see what happened.
A little to my surprise I fewer misspellings that I had anticipated, many thanks to the autocorrect function in Word for that. I also received a little window that gave me a “readability score” (in the mid 60s) and a “grade level” (nearly 8th grade!) for my document. I didn’t entirely understand the meaning of these numbers or what scale they should be judged against, something Microsoft might want to incorporate into their programming when they are provided, so I went online to find out more.
The name associated with the numbers was Flesch. I quickly came upon an article by Rudolf Flesch on the website of the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) titled How to Write Plain English. Apparently Mr. Flesch developed a formula for figuring out the readability of any piece of English language writing and placing it on a scale. Regardless of what you are writing, there is something in here for everyone. If you’re writing young adult novels, this formula can help you determine if you’re writing to old or young for the average reader in the ages you are targeting. If you have a piece of writing and the readability score comes back in the teens or single digits, you probably need to find some time to edit as soon as possible.
I can hear you asking already, how can language be distilled down into a formula? It can’t. We can however use this formula as a tool for guiding us in our writing. Something as complicated as language can never be measured simply like numbers but the more information we have about our writing, the better off we will be.
Check out Flesch’s entire article. And while you’re at it, browse around the rest of the University of Canterbury’s website. I always find it interesting to see what sites look like for places around the world.