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Measuring the readability of your texts

Did you know you already have a simple way to measure the readability of any text - objectively -  on your PC?

It’s the Flesch Reading Ease Scale. I’ll explain how to use it in a moment but first the scale itself. It runs from zero to 120 where 120 would be "the cat sat on the mat" and zero means quite literally incomprehensible!

To give you some points of comparison; Reader’s Digest typically measures around 60 while the Harvard Business Review scores about 30. Anything less, in my view, is asking for trouble.

In the United States, the Flesch scale is used as a legal test. For example in Florida insurance policies must register at least 45 or they’re considered legally unreadable.

When I write I aim to score 50 to 60, even with technical or scientific matter. This article, for instance, scores 66. On the home page of this website the first column measures 57. The call to action – the third column – measures 88: it’s literally childishly simple

The Flesch scale comes with Microsoft Word. When you spell check a document, select ‘check grammar’ from options and at the end of the check you’ll see a dialogue box listing the Flesch score among other factors.

Having an objective measure is sometimes very useful. Clients love nothing more than to take a blue pencil to the texts I spend hours on. I run their version through Flesch and show them the result. Often the readability will shrink from 50-odd down to 20 or even less.

It’s by no means uncommon for press releases sent out to the media to have very low readability scores – including zero in a distressingly high number of cases. Usually this is because the client – or the lawyers – have got their paws on it. Now you have a valid tool to fight them off when they try to turn your golden words into leaden dross!

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