Writing and readability

15 Nov

Pia Savage points out in her comment on the previous post that the “score” in those readability tests comes most likely from the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test. This has been around since John Howard was in short pants; we learned about it, and similar measures, in Dip Ed in 1964, and they were venerable then. The grade level is calculated with the following formula:


Obviously one cannot “fail” such a test, nor is it in itself a good or bad thing to get a particular result as the test totally ignores both meaning and context. That is a serious failing. Nonetheless, it is a useful indicator of the likelihood of communicating effectively.

I am however something of a fan of the Plain Language movement. I spent a very profitable year in 1978 studying Language Variation and Stylistics with Professor R D Eagleson, one of the Australian gurus of that movement. I attach his Writing in Plain English.

Writing in Plain English (PDF)

NOTE: Just out of curiosity I checked my South Sydney Herald article. It comes up as “Junior High”, about right for such a piece. Today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald gets the same score.


A much more detailed readability test.

Readability Results

The following table contains the readability results for

Reading Level Results


Summary Value
Total sentences 1025
Total words 9121
Average words per Sentence 8.90
Words with 1 Syllable 5663
Words with 2 Syllables 1975
Words with 3 Syllables 1017
Words with 4 or more Syllables 466
Percentage of word with three or more syllables 16.26%
Average Syllables per Word 1.59
Gunning Fog Index 10.06
Flesch Reading Ease 63.05
Flesch-Kincaid Grade 6.68

And from the site that did that comes further information:

Philip Chalmers of Benefit from IT provided the following typical Fog Index scores, to help ascertain the readability of documents.

Typical Fog Index Scores


Fog Index Resources
6 TV guides, The Bible, Mark Twain
8 Reader’s Digest
8 – 10 Most popular novels
10 Time, Newsweek
11 Wall Street Journal
14 The Times, The Guardian
15 – 20 Academic papers
Over 20 Only government sites can get away with this, because you can’t ignore them.
Over 30 The government is covering something up

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Posted by on November 15, 2007 in blogging, Observations, writing


3 responses to “Writing and readability

  1. AV

    November 15, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test

    There is, or used to be, a plug-in for this on Microsoft Word.

  2. ninglun

    November 15, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Still available, I think.

    Testing the Readability of Your Blog by Lorelle on WordPress is good on this too.

  3. AV

    November 16, 2007 at 12:56 am

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