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What Is Readability? Why It Matters? How to Use It?

Updated on March 25, 2020
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Prachi has been working as a freelance writer since 2012. When not writing, she helps people with web designing and development.


Readability is an evaluation of text to understand how easy it is to read. A text can have complexity, legibility, familiarity, and typography.

Readability focuses on:

  • Sentence length
  • Word familiarity
  • Syllable density

Importance of Measuring Readability

  • To improve communication with the readers
  • To better engage with them
  • To make your thoughts more understandable to them

Readability Score

  • A readability score gives you a close estimation of how easy it will be for readers to read your text. The most famous readability score is the Flesch-Kincaid readability score.
  • According to this score, if your text is rated 8, then it is almost equal to the reading level of grade 8 lying in the age group 13 to 14.
  • Readability is not about keeping the sentence as simple as possible.

If your text is difficult to read or understand or if it is way too simple, then, in both the situations, the audience may leave reading it in the mid or feel just plain bored.

Origin of Readability Score (From where did it start?)

During the 1920s, when the number of school-going children drastically increased, it became important to decide the methodology on how to effectively teach them.

In reply, Edward Thorndike’s The Teachers’ Word was presented in 1921 consists of 10,000 words.

Through this resource, the teachers decided which words to add to a students’ vocabulary. Thus, the concept of readability was born.

It was in the late 40s when readability received became much wider concept with the introduction of syllable counting and sentence length.

Importance of Readability in Different Professions

Readability is not just a concept for writers to consider, but it also affects the work of various other professions as discussed below:

1. Teachers

  • Teachers have the responsibility to effectively educate the students.
  • They need to decide the appropriate text for their students.
  • Readability score helps them finalize the standard of books
  • Despite so many years, the concept of readability is still influential in choosing the right set of books.

2. Digital Marketers

  • Digital Marketers need to increase customer engagement with the brand.
  • Customers react and take actions by reading what is being said. Thus, a need for readability arises.
  • In digital marketing, the readability relates to the clear communication of the message to the readers in a persuasive manner.
  • While readability emphasis use of simplicity, marketing may make use of certain terminologies to distinguish their brand.

3. Lawyers

  • Legal documents are full of complex words and sophisticated terminologies that lawyers of different levels and departments may find difficult.
  • People face problem in understanding legal documents, which, in the world of law and order, is quite a serious issue.
  • Lawyers must ensure the readability of legal documents so that everyone shares the same meaning for the same concept.
  • The wills are given by old-age people, which must be presented in a legally understandable manner for lawyers as well as the public.

4. Government

  • The government needs to form transparent and easy-to-understand policies.
  • The policies are intended for the public, it isn’t easy to figure out if they can understand every sort of sentence combination and phrases.
  • Readability plays a very important role in such a case, policies are expected to be readable and in plain English.
  • Government, of different regions in the world, has developed readability score to judge the simplicity of documents.
  • If any of the documents fail, then the respective person or department is held accountable.

5. Healthcare

  • Healthcare industries need to ensure the proper information is reaching to patients and the public regarding care and treatment.
  • The Internet usage has become so widespread that the general public, often avoids visiting doctor and prefers to run a search online, first.
  • Most of the time, the medical information is questionable and highly confusing.
  • It is imperative to make use of English that can be understood by a child of 9 to 12 years old.

Readability in Business Writing

Business wiring guidelines are not strictly theoretical, rather they are based on practical aspects of the business world. They are supported by research and people behavior towards a certain sentence or phrase.

Fortunately, there’s no need to read the research and act accordingly, you have MS Word and much other similar software. It can help you get rid of complicated words through easy-to-use tools. thus, enhancing the readability score of your writing.

A Business Writing needs to match the content with the different Level of Audience

  • The level of readability proportionally depends on the audience you are writing the content for.
  • Highly educated readers and those working at senior levels, certainly, have a wide vocabulary and can read complex material with ease.
  • In this case, you may write text suitable for professionals like scientists and MBAs.
  • But in general situation, this idea doesn’t hold much ground. Business professionals are always short of time. They would never want to spend long hours reading a piece of paper.
  • Media of business communication, such as email, letters, proposals, websites and so on, suppose to be easy and one-go reading material.
  • In case, you need to communicate with a diverse audience, it is better to craft different versions of the message.

Readability Assessment for Print Media

  • Do a spelling and grammar check through MS Word.
  • Copy and paste the content on readability website, they’ll instantly scan your content and will give you the readability score.
  • Make changes, if the readability score is very low.
  • Flesh readability must be between 50 to 70%
  • Content must be written keeping in mind students of 10th to 12th-grade level.
  • Passive sentences must be no more than 10%
  • Words per sentence must be limited to 18, exceptions can be there.
  • Write only 3 to 5 sentences in a single paragraph.

Readability Assessment for Online Media

Online media need higher readability than print media. It is physically harder to read on a big screen. People don’t pay much attention. So, more conciseness is required.

  • Sentences must be no more than 12 words.
  • Paragraphs must consist of 1 to 3 sentences
  • Break long sentences into two or more.
  • Avoid passive sentences
  • Use “I’ve”, “You’re”, “There’s” to reduce the length.

Readability is a great tool for SEO marketing

According to an estimation, online readers spent less than 20% of their time on an average page. This questions, how to make an impassion within such a short timeframe?

SEO marketers need to know tactics to make an intact impression. This happens when people can easily grab words and understand their meaning. Thus, the usage of complex and long text is a big no. Readability gives:

1. Higher Rankings

  • The SEO ranking depends on how long a visitor is staying on your page.
  • If he moves out immediately, then you receive a negative score.
  • If he stays, then your ranking improves.
  • All consider exit and bounce rates. These factors affect overall site ranking in the search result.
  • A visitor can leave your site fast my be because of poor design, overcrowded UI or low readability.
  • Check out the high ranking sites and observe how their readability quotient. It’ll help you understand the strategies better.

2. Increased Traffic

  • Since readability let readers linger longer. Your site ranking rises. This ultimately gives your site to show up on the first page of search results.
  • Besides that, you must use those words in your content that people use while searching.
  • Avoid using difficult phrases and jargons. No one is here to admire the beauty of your powerful vocabulary.
  • Make use of people’s language. Think about it, what words would you use if you’re looking for a specific topic?

3. Better Engagement

  • Your site must perfectly fulfill the needs of the targeted audience.
  • Avoid writing content that distracts the audience from the main topic.
  • Though, in some cases, it is fine to write on distinguishing topics, such as if your website niche is finance, you can also write about your travel diaries.
  • The main aim is to write useful content. Content must appeal to your audience, not to you.
  • Improved usability results in better engagement rate and higher page views.

4. Higher Conversions

  • Generating conversions is the ultimate goal of writing content.
  • Your message must urge readers to click on a link, watch a video or anything that you prefer.
  • Thus, readability provides high-quality information, better conversion rates and higher chances of business success.

Different Methods for Measuring Readability

As I already mentioned, the Flesch-Kincaid readability test is the most famous of all methods to evaluate the text. Let’s start with this method, then proceed with others:

1. Flesch–Kincaid readability tests

Flesch–Kincaid readability tests indicate the difficulty of an English passage. It consists of two tests: Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

Flesch Reading Ease: The test is done to understand the readability factor of a text. A higher score means easy-to-read, while a lower score means difficult-to-read.

Flesch Reading Ease
Flesch Reading Ease

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the image below:

Flesch–Kincaid readability tests Grade Chart
Flesch–Kincaid readability tests Grade Chart

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: This test correlates inversely with the Flesch Reading Ease. If Reading Ease has a higher score, then this test must have a lower score. Grade level evaluates the number of years of education required to understand a particular text. As shown in the image above, as the readability score increases, the grade level decreases.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

2. Gunning Fog Index

Gunning Fog Index calculates the number of years of education required to understand a text on first reading.

Gunning Fog Index Formula
Gunning Fog Index Formula
Gunning Fog Index Grade Chart
Gunning Fog Index Grade Chart

3. Coleman-Liau Index

Coleman-Liau Index works similar to above-mentioned methods, except the fact it checks characters in a word rather than a syllable.

Coleman-Liau Index Formula
Coleman-Liau Index Formula

4. SMOG index

SMOG is an acronym for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook. It is widely used for checking health texts. It also checks readability by estimating the number of years of formal education required to understand a piece of writing.

SMOG index Formula
SMOG index Formula

5. Automated Readability Index

Automated Readability Index(ARI) estimates the understandability of the text. It works using US grade level representation for a text. Similar to the Coleman-Liau Index, ARI also relies on characters.

Automated Readability Index Formula
Automated Readability Index Formula
Automated Readability Index Grade Chart
Automated Readability Index Grade Chart

6. Linsear Write

Linsear Write is specially designed for the United States Air Force to calculate the readability of technical manuals. It calculates US grade level on the basis of sentence length and number of words containing three or more syllables.

Readability Tools that You must us

1. Readable

Hemingway Editor
Hemingway Editor
Readability Test Tool
Readability Test Tool

More and more people are using Internet for almost every sort of help. Since reading online is little challenging as compared to print material, it is important to mind the readability quotient of sentences and each word.

Each website has targeted audience, for example a fashion enthusiast would rarely like visit a gambling site or vice-versa. So, write accordingly.

While some other sites like news and social media websites can be used by anyone, there’s a high need to make use of more general words.

© 2019 Prachi Sharma


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