Readability Defined



Have you ever chosen a book to read for pleasure, but it drove you nuts because you had to keep a dictionary nearby to help you decipher the meaning of such uncommon vocabulary?

Did you finally toss the book aside and choose one that was easier to read and understand?

What you experienced was a high readability level.

Readability is 1) How well the text is laid out, visually and 2) How well the words and sentences can be understood.

Readability looks at sentence length, syllable density, cultural references, word choice (word familiarity, the complexity of vocabulary and syntax). It even considers font size, line height and length.

All of these factors, put together, yields a score approximating how many years of schooling readers need in order to be able to understand your writing.

Newspapers typically strive for an eighth grade readability level. This will be easily read by a broad audience. The Nielson-Norman group suggests this should be the aim of most general fiction writers.

So, how do you make your writing easier to understand?  

Use shorter sentences made up of short, more common words.

The Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham has a Grade 1 readability. Perfect for this children’s book.

Romeo and Juliet yields a score of 3.2  Every high schooler should be able to understand it, adding to its popularity throughout the years.

If you are interested in testing out your own writing, here are the most noteworthy scoring systems out there:  Coleman Liau; Flesch reading ease score; Flesch-Kincaid grade level; Fry graph readability formula; and the Gunning fog index.

There is a free readability Test Tool at:

There is a time and place for every kind of writing—books that will appeal to many different audiences. If your writing is more literary, you may want to consider increasing your work’s readability index.


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