January 9th, 2014 .

Clear Writing by the Numbers

Pat Morden

If you’re a regular reader, you know we at Morden Communications have a penchant for clear, plain language. But it’s easy to fall into bad habits when you’re writing a lot. So how do you know that you’re hitting the plain language mark?

One simple way is to use the Microsoft Word readability scores. They are the Fleisch Reading Ease Test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test. Both use a combination of word and sentence length to reach a score.

Yes, the scores are a bit arbitrary, especially in an area like health care where lots of the words are long. But they can help you pay attention to your writing in a new way.

Reading Ease scores should be north of 60, and Grade Level scores south of 8.

So how do you find your scores on Word? First, turn on the feature by going to File, Options, Proofing, and checking off Show Readability Statistics. Then when you finish a document, go to Review, Spelling & Grammar, and let the program go through its check. The stats will appear when the check is complete.

Don’t give up if your stats are out of the range. Go back and look closely at each sentence. Have you used a long word where a short one would do? Would some of your sentences benefit from splitting into two? Is there anything else you can do to simplify your language?

I use readability scores all the time, often going back over my pieces several times to earn a better score. (I don’t mean to boast but this post has a readability score of 79 and a Grade Level of 5.5.)

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