We’re back on topic, with reading levels. Last time, we discussed what can be gained by writing in a fashion that everyone can understand (hint: a lot). Today, we are going to learn how to measure our writing, at what level we should aim, and why even bother.

How to Measure?

There are many reading measurements, and each gives a fixed numeric value. With complex names such as “Raygor Estimate Graph, Flesch Reading Ease, and Spache Formula,” they sound pretty daunting. We’re not going to worry about their details, just that they exist and can help us determine if others can understand what is written. So what do they measure? Each is different, but a combination of word length, syllables, and words per sentence is common.

What Level?

This may surprise you, but the average American understands what they read best when it is a 7-8th grade reading level. Please realize, the grade level does not reflect intelligence, rather, the degree of complexity (or lack thereof) to ensure your writing is understood. After I complete a blog post, I scan it with reading level calculators to learn how close to my goal it is. That doesn’t mean my content is basic, rather, I write to be understood, not go over a reader’s head. Feel free to check any of this blog’s previous entries in one of the calculators. Then, take a look at the level popular news sources and books are written. Time aims for 9th grade. The New York Times, 10th. John Grisham, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and many other bestsellers write at a 7th grade reading level.

Why Bother?

Alongside the rapid development and implementation of newly-fostered ideas, which serve to educate and inform a willing industry populace, technology has offered a template with which we can communicate our desires, strategies, and results so as to generate a loftier goal for all.

That sentence is why. Because saying something in long statements, with big words, designed to make you sound “smart”, helps no one. Here’s that same sentence, brought down to Earth:

We all have great ideas, and technology has made sharing them with others so much easier. Our industry is better due to your contribution.

Which was easier to understand?

  • The grade level estimate of the first sentence is a whopping 23, which can be interpreted as graduate level content. Its reading ease, where higher is better, and 60+ is a good aim, scored 8.4.
  • The modified segment offered a grade level of 7.8 and a reading ease of 60.7. It’s not just you, the second selection is mathematically simpler to comprehend.

Keep this in mind when you’re drafting new content for your website, newsletters, and mailed content. If your writing is too complex, it’s as if you are wasting half (or more) of your mailings. I’d encourage you to learn about and embrace reading level calculators, then go forth and compose!

For reference, this post has a Flesch Reading Ease (higher is better) of 72.4 and is written at an average grade level of 7.6.