Readability test

Posted on May 18, 2010 (Subscribe to Blog)

Editing of Book 3, Mountain of Whispers, is going well and I'm now slightly over halfway through. I'm working on batches of six chapters and sending these batches to my kind proofreaders. I'm on target for my June release.

Just out of interest, I tested my writing to see what kind of reading level it suits. I've always aimed at readers aged 9-12, and because 12-year-olds may not want to "read down," this means aiming it at age 12 rather than age 9. There's a fairly simple test devised by a man named Rudolf Flesch which takes a passage of text, or the entire manuscript, and analyzes it by counting syllables, number of words in a sentence, number of sentences, and so on. As Wikipedia explains:

The Flesch/Flesch-Kincaid readability tests are designed to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage of contemporary academic English. There are two tests, the Flesch Reading Easiness, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Although they use the same core measures (word length and sentence length), they have different weighting factors, so the results of the two tests correlate approximately inversely: a text with a comparatively high score on the Reading Ease test should have a lower score on the Grade Level test. Both systems were devised by Rudolf Flesch.

Microsoft Word has this tool built in, but you have to go through the grammar check first. I found an online tool that does the same thing without a grammar check, so I tested it with three paragraphs of text. The first test is Reading Ease:

The first score we calculated was the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease (Wikipedia). The text scored 82.20 on this scale (a higher score indicates easier readability; scores go from 0 to 100).

So that's good to know! The rest of the test is to do with Grade Level. There are a few tests it goes through so it comes up with an average:

The second set of scores all return a "grade level", based on the USA education system. A grade level is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

And the results are...

Readability FormulaGrade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level4.60
Gunning-Fog Score6.80
Coleman-Liau Index9.30
SMOG Index5.30
Automated Readability Index4.40
Average Grade Level6.08

The Flesch-Kincaid score is a little lower than I expected at fourth grade level (ages 9-10), but the average 6.08 score is just right for sixth grade (ages 11-12). This also suits adults who are kids at heart! Overall my results are 4th-6th grades with one 9th grade.

If you're a writer, Check Text Readability at Added Bytes for a pretty accurate assessment.

What's funny is that I don't try to aim for this reading level. It's just the way I am. This means I would be a hopeless writer for adults. There are others who would be just as hopeless writing for children, as they are unable to refrain from using big words! I easily refrain from using big words because I don't know any. So what this test does is to prove (at least to myself) that I'm writing at a level that I'm comfortable with.

Comment by ANITA on Friday, May 21, 2010...

Interesting, Keith. Back in 1999 (Green Hedges Magazine, Number 29), Michael Rouse tested some Enid Blyton books using the Leonard Mugford Readability Formula. He found that the reading age of many of Blyton's books was about the same with Famous Five, Secret Seven and Adventure titles having a reading age of 8.7 - 8.9 years. "The Wishing Chair Again" came out at 8.3 years, while the Noddy books showed a result of 7.8 years. Enid Blyton always aimed for clarity and accessibility in her writing, as well as natural-sounding dialogue, so it's not surprising that a test examining things like sentence length, word length and word repetition didn't find much difference in reading age. However, her books are of course differentiated according to age group if we look at length of story, plot complexity, character development and subject matter.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Friday, May 21, 2010...

I'm amazed that Noddy came out so "old" compared to her other books! Noddy is clearly for kids about 3 months old (well, maybe a bit older) and I find it hard to believe that a reader would jump from Noddy to the Secret Seven books in the space of a year. So yes, clearly there other things to take into consideration than just syllables and numbers of words per sentence, and overall length and subject matter matter, as you said. (Did I just say "matter" twice then?)

Comment by DANDAVSTAR on Monday, February 7, 2011...

i'm writing 2 storys i've checked them both at added bytes and here what it said
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease 90.90
Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (Wikipedia) 3.10
Gunning-Fog Score (Wikipedia) 5.10
Coleman-Liau Index (Wikipedia) 6.90
SMOG Index (Wikipedia) 3.70
Automated Readability Index (Wikipedia) 1.90
Average Grade Level 4.14

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