What Grade Level Do You Write At?

The Flesch Kincaid Readability Test measures two aspects of a document – the reading ease and grade level. Reading ease is measured from 0 to 100, 0 being incomprehensible and 100 being easily understandable by an average 11 year-old student. The reading level represents the number of years of education needed to understand the text.

It’s an automated test though and is far from perfect. There’s no straightforward way to measure the quality or comprehensibility of the writing, so it bases the scores on perceived complexity. The average sentence length and number of syllables per word are used to compute the readability score and grade level. For example, the paragraph below scores 100 on reading ease with a second grade reading level even though it’s meaningless gibberish.

The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store. The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store. The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store. The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store. The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store. The for the way is it for way to me I go to the store.

In spite of it’s failings, it can be useful as a broad gauge of how well your writing matches the reading level of your intended audience. Here are a few ways to compute the two scores.

Microsoft Word – Tools -> Options -> Spelling and Grammar or Word Options -> Proofing and check “Show readability statistics”. Spellcheck the document to see the scores. (if “Show readability statistics” is grayed out, enable “Check grammar with spelling”)

Open Office – Not supported natively. Add-ons exist.

Google Docs – Tools -> Word count (or Ctrl-Shift-C)

Added Bytes – Online form where you paste the text and get the score.

Fight the Bull – Another online form (the also have a software counterpart).

Edit Central – Yet another online form

Juicy Studio – Online tool that tests a URL.

I ran this lawyer’s gibberish through Added Bytes and it received 8.10 for reading ease and a 21.3 grade level. It’s a shame that some of the most important documents we deal with are the hardest to read.

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Here are the results of running a random post from several popular web sites through Added Bytes. The sites are ordered by grade level, highest to lowest.

Site Grade level Reading ease
Lawyerese 21.3 8.10
Boingboing 15.80 37.20
USA Today 11.70 50.60
The Economist 11.00 45.90
SFGate 10.10 59.00
MetaFilter 9.40 60.20
Chicago Trib 9.00 56.60
WSJ 8.90 57.50
Reddit 8.60 62.70
Digg 8.50 62.90
CNN 8.20 65.80
Slashdot 7.50 72.10
NY Times 7.50 63.30
Fark 6.30 71.80


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  1. Lawyerese is hard to read because its purpose is not the same as more casual forms of language. Languages tend to be imprecise and ambiguous, which is fine for normal use, but leads to serious problems in legal use. So lawyers are trained to use very precise language that other lawyers can use to determine exactly what was meant. This naturally makes it more difficult for the layperson to read, but any highly-specialized, high-precision language will be difficult for the uninitiated to follow.

    Comment by Levi on February 11, 2009 @ 12:49 pm
  2. That’s a good point and I understand the intent, but there’s plenty of ambiguity in lawyerese. Entire court cases are based on certain interpretations of legal contracts written by lawyers.

    I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen much of the precision lies in phrases that, by convention, mean certain things to laywers. Those phrases could be simplified to make them easier for the layperson to read while maintaining the original meaning.

    Comment by Dan on February 11, 2009 @ 12:59 pm
  3. Here’s another readability test website that does a good job of calculating Flesch Kincaid Readability Test

    Comment by Homer on March 5, 2009 @ 12:56 pm
  4. Thanks for the link

    Comment by Dan on March 5, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

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