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  • Writer's pictureLeah Geller

What is readability – and why does it matter?

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Readability is the ease with which a reader can understand a written text.

The readability level you should aim for depends on:

  • The reading ability of your audience

  • How familiar the readers are with the subject matter

  • How motivated they are to understand and act on the information you are giving them

However, according to Sally McBeth, one of Canada's leading experts in clear writing, "If you have a highly educated audience, don’t assume that you should write at a college reading level. Unless they are reading specialized information in a discipline they were trained for, people prefer to read several grades below their actual level of education."

For example, Canadian newspapers such as the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail are written at a Grade 10 – 12 reading level. In today’s world, people don’t want to wade through dense, complex prose. Everyone has too much information to deal with already.

There are a number of tools that objectively measure readability. My favourite is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, which assesses the approximate reading grade level of a text. The measurement is based on the number of syllables in the words you use, the length of your sentences and the size of your paragraphs.

  • For a general audience, aim for a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level around 8.

  • For an educated audience, aim for a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level of between 10 to 12.

  • For a highly technical audience, you can aim for a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level up to 14.

Using Word "Editor" to score readability

You can check the readability level of your text by using the "Editor" function in Word. You can find this at the top right-hand corner of the Word dashboard. Click on "Document stats" and you'll see a box titled "Readability Statistics" (see below).

  • For "Words per Sentence" you generally want between 15 and 20.

  • For "Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level" you usually want between 8 and 12, depending on your audience.

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