Get 34 facts & figures about your clarity
Plug in a chunk of copy, and STORYtoolz will run it through seven readability indexes. STORYtoolz also delivers a wealth of other readability information — 34 pieces of data in all, from your longest sentence length to the number of “to be” verbs.
Here are some of the things to look for in STORYtoolz.
Since 1847, scholars and others have been measuring how hard copy is to read. Over the years, these folks have created some 200 readability indexes — from the Flesch to the Fry, from the Fog to the SMOG, from the Spache to the LIX.
Readability formulas measure how easy it is to read and understand copy. Most use a combination of sentence and word length to determine how many years of education a reader would need to understand your copy.
“If there is anything wrong with the formulas,” writes William H. DuBay, readability consultant with Impact Information, “it is that they are not used enough.”
You’ll get eight scores in STORYtoolz, including an average of the seven indexes. Among the targets for a general audience:
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 60 or higher
- Flesch Reading Ease: 8th grade or lower
- Gunning fog index: 12th grade or lower
Learn more about readability indexes.
From words per sentence to characters per word, you’ll find the most important data about your copy in this section of STORYtoolz.
Here, you’ll want to look at:
- Number of words. Longer stories lose readers faster, so the lower this number, the better.
- Characters per word. Word length is one of the top 2 predictors of readability. Hit an average of 5.0 or less on this measure.
- Syllables per word. Words of three or more syllables add to reading difficulty, according to the folks who created the Fog and SMOG indexes. Aim for an average of 2.0 or less.
- Words per sentence. Sentence length is one of the top 2 predictors of readability. Aim for an average of 14 or less, counsel the folks at the American Press Institute.
- Number of short sentences, number of long sentences. Vary your sentence length to build drama, create rhythm and make your points powerfully. Check these measures to make sure you’re not lulling your readers to sleep with monotonous sentence length.
- Sentences per paragraph. Readers skip long paragraphs. Keep this measure to under three for print, under two for Web copy.
- Number of questions. Questions may suggest reader involvement, right? Just make sure you’re not over-relying on question leads.
- Number of passive sentences. Passive voice is long, bureaucratic and weak. Aim for zero.
- Longest sentences. Readers get lost in long sentences. Keep it under 20.
- Shortest sentence. There’s no such thing as a sentence that’s too short. Agreed?
In this section, you’ll find three issues: 1) weak verbs; 2) words that link phrases into long sentences; 3) words that cause confusion.
Here’s what to look for:
- Number of “to be” words. It’s the weakest verb in the English language. Choose something else instead.
- Number of auxiliary verbs. These are words like shall, will and may. They add information to the main verb, but in the process, weaken it. Don’t tell me you were darting. Tell me you darted.
- Number of conjunctions. These linking words — like and, but, or — make sentences longer. If your sentences are too long, try reducing the number of conjunctions.
- Number of pronouns. These noun substitutes — like he, she and it — can cause ambiguity. Double-check your pronouns to make sure they’re clear.
- Number of prepositions. Prepositions, like at, for and by, link words into sentences. If your sentences are too long and if you have a lot of prepositions, you may want to reduce prepositional phrases.
- Number of nominalizations. Nominalizations occur when you turn verbs into nouns. Don’t commit verbicide. Aim for zero.
Subject-verb-object sentences are the most readable. You want most of your sentences to start with a noun, followed almost immediately by a verb.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with starting sentences with:
- Pronouns, like he, she and they. As long as it’s clear which noun the pronoun refers to, starting a sentence with a pronoun is fine.
- Interrogative pronouns, like who, what or which. You can gain reader involvement by occasionally asking a question, as long as you don’t do it in the lead.
- Articles, like the, an or no. When you see an article, a noun is soon to follow.
Most of the time, avoid starting sentences with:
- Subordinating conjunctions, like after, even though and when. These words introduce a clause before the subject and verb, delaying the meaning of the sentence.
- Prepositions, like at, for and by. Prepositions also introduce a clause before the subject and verb, delaying the meaning of and convoluting the sentence. In press releases, introductory prepositions often signal chest-pounding phrases, like “In a move that sets the next industry milestone and reinforces its leadership position …” Drop ’em.
I’m a huge fan of starting sentences with a conjunction. The breaks sentences up and moves copy along more briskly.
How can you use STORYtoolz to weigh, measure and improve your copy?