The Best Way to Calculate Your Readability Score

When creating a document for others to read, you want to make sure you’re presenting the information in an easy-to-understand manner. When explaining a business concept, it’s acceptable to use jargon and acronyms in a document that coworkers will read. But you’ll want to use simpler and more explanatory language in a document clients will read.

In other words, the type of language in use needs to match the intended audience’s ability to comprehend it.

This idea is where a readability score ranking enters the picture. If you are using apps like Google Docs or Microsoft Word to create your documents, you have the ability to generate a readability score for your document. This can help you determine whether your word choices and sentence structures are appropriate for the intended audience.

What Is a Readability Score?

The readability score is an assigned ranking to your document. This ranking number indicates the ease with which someone else can read your document.

Understand that readability score does not make a judgment on the quality of your writing. It only measures the ability of the audience to read your document easily.

Calculating Readability Scores

When calculating readability scores in a document, software examines the types of words in use, as well as the structure and length of sentences.

A few different formulas are available for calculating readability scores. The most popular are Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Flesch Reading Ease, both of which study the total number of sentences and words in the document, along with the length of the words, to create a score. They then assign a suggested reading grade level to the document.

Other readability index formulas may emphasize the complexity of the words in use more than the complexity of the sentence structure. Some formulas have a heavier focus on the number of syllables in the sentences. Other formulas include:

  • Coleman Liau
  • Dale-Chall Score
  • Fry Readability Grade Level
  • Gunning Fog
  • Rix Readability
  • SMOG

Some types of software will use only one readability formula. Others may use multiple formulas and take the average score of all of them.

The Benefits of Using Readability Scores

Some of the advantages of using readability scores on your documents include the following.

Improving Comprehension

If you are trying to make a particular point in your document, using terms that are too complex may leave readers unable to understand the point. The readability score can help you determine whether the text is more complex than you’d like it to be.

If your readability score ends up at a higher reading level than you want, you may find that you need to edit the document with simpler explanations and less jargon.

Improving Reading Speed

When you are giving people a lot of documents to read, measuring the documents with a readability score can help you determine whether the text allows for quick comprehension. With a lower grade level readability score, the readers will be able to work through all of the text faster, allowing them to absorb more knowledge for the time they spend on it.

If your document measures out to a readability score that requires a high grade level for comprehension, you may force your readers to spend a lot of time looking up terms and taking notes, meaning they cannot work through the material quickly enough to finish all of it.

Finding the Right Audience

If you are creating a document for a high level academic audience with significant knowledge about the topic already, the readability score can help you determine whether the text is complex enough.

If the text is too simplistic, which the readability score can help you determine, you may turn off your audience, especially if the readers are expecting to learn something from the document that they don’t already know.

The Flaws in Using Readability Scores

Some of the disadvantages of using readability scores include the following.

No Specific Suggestions

Although the readability score can give you a general idea about the quality and readability level of your text, it cannot make specific suggestions on where you should make changes or improvements.

The score represents an average of the entire document. You could have a couple of sections of the document that use large words and complex sentences because of the topic, and these sections could throw off the readability score. You may then make unhelpful edits, when, in reality, the majority of the document was fine before your edits.

No Credit for Type of Topic

If you’re using a topic that features quite a few multisyllabic words, your readability score may show that the text is difficult to comprehend, when it really is just using large words that the target audience easily understands.

If you’re worried about this possibility, try this trick. Substitute a short word for your multisyllabic word that’s the topic of the document, using the Find and Replace feature. Then run the readability score again and see if it improves. If so, your document probably is just fine, as the formula is giving you an undesirable score because of the topic word. (Don’t forget to use the Find and Replace feature again to put your multisyllabic word back into the document.)

Calculating Readability Scores in Microsoft Word

When using Microsoft Word, you can have the app calculate a readability score for you using the following steps. Understand that once you set up Word to begin tracking your documents’ readability statistics, this feature will be active in all of your documents, not only the document you have open when you activate the feature.

1. Set Up Readability Statistics

To activate readability statistics, click the File menu, followed by Options. Then click Proofing along the right side of the screen.

Look for the When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word section. Activate the Check Grammar, Check Spelling, and Mark Grammar check boxes in this area. (Unless you check both grammar and spelling in your document, you cannot generate a readability score.)

Then place a checkmark next to Show Readability Statistics. (If this box is grayed out, meaning you cannot check it, try removing all of the checkmarks in the When Correcting Spelling and Grammar in Word section. Then add the check marks back. As you add the checkmarks back in, the Show Readability Statistics box should no longer be grayed out.)

Click OK to save your changes.

2. Run Spell Check

Word cannot calculate the readability score for your document until you have corrected or ignored all spelling and grammar errors in the document.

To check for these types of errors inside an open Word document, click the Home menu followed by Editor to run the spell check. The results will appear on the right side of the screen.

If you have errors, you’ll see a number appear to the right of the Spelling and/or Grammar entries. (If you see green checkmarks to the right, Word did not find any errors.)

Click on Spelling or Grammar to see the errors that Word found. Edit or ignore each error. Continue working through the list until fixing all of the errors.

3. Deciphering the Readability Statistics

After you correct or ignore all of the errors, Word will create a popup window with the readability statistics in it.

The upper section contains the document’s word count, as well as the number of sentences and paragraphs. The middle section shows the number of words per sentence and other statistics.

The lower section has a couple of different readability scores, as well as the percentage of passive sentences in your document.

Once you have seen all of the statistics you want to use, click the OK button to close the window. (You might see another popup window, telling you that you’ve finished using the Editor, where you’ll need to click OK again.) You can click the X box in the upper right corner of the Editor pane on the right side to close the pane and return your document to the full screen.

Formulas Word Uses for Readability Score

Word uses the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores.

  • Flesch Reading Ease: A score of 70 or higher is an extremely readable document, roughly translating to an eighth grade level or easier. Scores between 50 and 70 translate to a high school level of reading, while scores of 30 to 50 work well for college students. Any score of less than 30 works for an audience of those with college degrees, sometimes requiring advanced degrees.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: This score is easy to understand, as the score translates to the minimum education level for the target audience. A score of 7 would equal a seventh-grade reading level. A score of 12 matches up with a high school senior’s reading level.

Calculating Readability Scores in Google Docs

Google Docs does not have a built-in tool that measures the readability score in your text. (The Docs app used to provide this information, but developers removed the feature a few years ago.)

You could try downloading an extension that works with Google Docs to provide this information, but the majority of these extensions have a cost or a monthly fee. It’s difficult to justify paying for this feature in Google Docs when Microsoft Word gives it to you for free.

Instead, for a free option for use with your Google Docs text, we’d suggest one of the two web-based options below.

Readability Analyzer

Highlight all of the text in your Google Docs file and press the CTRL and C keys to copy it.

Then open the Readability Analyzer web tool. At the upper left of the web page, right-click in the text box and left click on Paste.

Click the Analyze button. (Depending on the speed of your Internet connection, it may take a few seconds for the Analyze button to become available; it’s grayed out until the web page is ready to analyze the text.)

When the analysis is complete, you’ll see statistics about your document appear underneath Passage Statistics on the right side of the page.

On the far right, under Readability Scores, you’ll see a number of readability score tools, including:

  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Gunning Fog
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
  • SMOG
  • Dale-Chall Score
  • Fry Readability Grade Level

If you have questions about any of the readability score tools, just hover over the question mark button to the right of the tool name to see an explanation.

WebFX Readability Text Tool

With the WebFX Readability Text Tool, you’ll be able to paste the URL address of your Google Docs file, and the tool will pull the data from the page for you, rather than making you copy and paste the actual text.

Click on the URL address box in the Chrome web browser for your Google Docs file. This should highlight the entire address. Press the CTRL and C keys on your keyboard to copy the URL address.

Open the WebFX web page. Click in the Test by URL text box and delete the pre-entered text. Then press the CTRL and V keys to paste the URL address into the box.

Click the Calculate Readability button to generate your readability scores. Scroll down on the page to see the tools in use, including:

  • Flesch Reading Ease
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
  • Gunning Fog
  • SMOG
  • Coleman Liau

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira