Get 33 metrics about your clarity
There are a million readability tools out there. Among my favorites: STORYToolz readability analyzer.
Plug in a chunk of copy, and STORYToolz will deliver a wealth of readability information — 33 pieces of data in all, from the words you use to start your sentences to the number of “to be” verbs.
Whether you’re writing email marketing messages or intranet articles, here are some things to look for in this readability scoring algorithm:
1. Reading levels
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.
With StoryToolz, you’ll get seven readability test scores, including the:
- Automated Readability Index (ARI)
- Coleman Liau index
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level index
- Flesch Reading Ease index
- Gunning Fog index
- Simple Measure of Gobbledygook, or SMOG, index
All of these indexes boil readability grade levels down to a mathematical formula. Those formulas usually comprise two factors:
- Sentence length. This measures “syntactic,” or structural, difficulty. Most formulas measure the average number of words/sentence.
- Word length. This measures “semantic,” or meaning, difficulty. Most formulas measure the average number of syllables or characters per word.
Then they calculate readability to determine how easy it is for readers to understand the text.
Don’t like your score? Write shorter, clearer sentences and choose shorter, more familiar words.
As you use these readability formulas, you’ll notice that each scores text differently. The SMOG’s 12th grade may be the Fog’s 15th. Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, for instance, according to STORYToolz, scores at the:
- 14.8th grade on the Gunning Fog index
- 14.7th grade on the ARI (Automated Readability Index)
- 12.2th grade on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test
- 11.7th grade on the SMOG index
- 10.8th grade on the Coleman-Liau
- 9th grade on the Laesbarhedsindex (LIX) Formula
Why the difference? Because of different:
- Variables. Some formulas count syllables per word; others count characters. The Dale-Chall uses a familiar words list instead of word length. The FORCAST doesn’t take word length into account at all.
- Formulas. Each formula puts different weights on the variables it measures.
- Comprehension requirements. FORCAST and Dale-Chall require 50% correct answers on a multiple-choice test, for instance. The SMOG requires that participants get 100% of the answers right. The higher the comprehension requirements, in general, the lower the scores.
The solution? Use the creators’ guidelines for judging difficulty. And find a formula you like, then stick with it. (I prefer the Flesch Reading Ease.)
You’ll find everything from words per sentence to characters per word in this section of STORYtoolz. Shorter, clearer sentences are easier to read.
3. Word usage
Here, you’ll identify opportunities to:
- Turn polysyllabic words into small ones
- Strengthen weak verbs
- Reduce the number of words that link phrases into long sentences
- Clarify confusing words
4. Sentence beginnings
Subject-verb-object sentences are the most readable. Here, you’ll be able to make sure most of your sentences start with a noun, followed almost immediately by a verb.
Next steps toward readability
Learn how to:
- Sell readability to reviewers and approvers with research about literacy rates, reading time and more
- Boost readership and understanding with short pieces of content
- Write short paragraphs that don’t get skipped
- Make statistics clear and interesting to all of your readers
- Activate your message by avoiding passive voice
- Get the gobbledygook and gibberish out by avoiding jargon