How to Use the Readability Statistics

by Brent Middleton



Ever hear of Readability Statistics? No? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This little key feature in Word is probably one of the most underutilized facets of the program. Unless you used it to track the number of characters for an assignment in school, you probably never noticed it. We are talking about the little pop-up at the end of the Spell Checker.

Readability Statistics have three main categories: Counts, Averages, and Readability. The first two options are self-explanatory. Counts lists the number of words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences in your document, and Averages displays the average sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word.

Readability makes things a little more interesting. It lists three calculations: Passive Sentences, Flesch Reading Ease, and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. While Passive Sentences simply shows the percentage of passive sentences found in your document (which should never be more than 3% for fiction), there’s more to the story regarding the Flesch/Flesch-Kincaid readability tests.

With the Flesch Reading Ease test, the higher the test score the easier the doc. is to read. The count is determined by comparing the number of syllables to the number of total words. The scale is widely used by both publications and governmental agencies. Time magazine, for example, scores roughly a 52 on the scale, while the Harvard Law Review scores in the low 30s. Meanwhile, a great number of government agencies have certain readability standards that official documents must attain.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test is used widely in education. The formula translates to the U.S. grade level via a 0-100 score, making it easy for teachers and librarians to determine the readability level of books and texts for students. The formula comes up with a number that translates to a grade level (i.e. a book scoring an 8.2 would correspond to the level of an 8th-grade student in the U.S.). The lower the score, the lower the grade level.

Although you might not use these tools in your everyday writings, they can be valuable when writing for a certain audience, whether it’s for a magazine, newspaper, or novel. For short story writers, I would suggest aiming for a range of 30-50 Flesch Reading Ease and 6-9 Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Click here to learn how to enable the Readability Statistics setting on Word or Office.

Fun fact: The readability scores for this article are 51.6 for Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and 10.0 for Flesch- Kincaid Grade Level. Avail yourself of this free gift!

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