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"Readability" Factors? : Writers' Block Party • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

"Readability" Factors?

What's going on in your writing world? Connect with the writing community here and talk about whatever's on your mind.
brewbob
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Joined: Thu Feb 02, 2006 2:34 am

"Readability" Factors?

Postby brewbob » Thu Feb 16, 2006 11:33 am


brewbob
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"Readability" Factors?

Postby brewbob » Thu Feb 16, 2006 11:33 am

When checking grammar and spelling in Word 2000, the Readability statistics are included. I never paid much attention to this, but this tool breaks it down into "passive sentences", a "Flesch reading ease" and a "Flesch-Kincaid grade level."

Is this used by editors, agents, or anyone else? I've never seen this item discussed before. Comments?

Bob

Talis1
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby Talis1 » Thu Feb 16, 2006 12:01 pm

What you're talking about is scoring a document for how easy it is to read. Generally documents with shorter sentences and words are easier to read, while longer sentences and words are more difficult. There are very technical calculations to determine the readability, but I won't pretend to know them! :)

Sometimes these scores are broken into "grades"; an example given to me years ago compared a couple of my hometown's newspapers. While the more respectable broadsheet newspaper was written at a grade 8 level, the tabloid was around grade 4. Basically this means that someone at that grade level should be able to read and comprehend the article.

Academic or medical journals are normally written at a much higher grade level; university level, for example, which can be difficult to understand even when one has a university degree!

I hope this helps. I think the Writer's Digest Book Club is featuring a book this month that tackles some of these questions ("writer's Little Helper" I think it's called).

Jamesaritchie
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby Jamesaritchie » Thu Feb 16, 2006 12:23 pm


Jumbie
 

RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby Jumbie » Fri Feb 17, 2006 6:28 am

James, are you a researcher? I love that you check all this stuff. It rarely enters my mind to do so, for which I have no real excuse. Maybe it's packed with story ideas. Yeah, that's it! Story ideas. :)


YarnSpinner
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby YarnSpinner » Fri Feb 17, 2006 7:03 am

Thank you Bob and James for alerting me to this neat little tool. I can't believe I've used MSWord for years, and WordPerfect before that and didn't know about it. When I finally found it I ran it on one of my chapters and was pleased to find I'd used only 2% passive voice and written at grade level 4.9. Thanks again.

jasipper
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby jasipper » Fri Feb 17, 2006 7:10 am


abqwriter
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby abqwriter » Fri Feb 17, 2006 1:44 pm

I'd never paid attention to this tool.  Ran A Robin in Winter through the check and found the following:

Passive Sentences: 2%

Flesch Reading Ease: 84.1

Flesch -Kincaid Grade Level: 4.1

Having nothing to compare this to, I'm wondering what the information means.  What is the "gold standard" for novels? 


Talis1
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby Talis1 » Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:12 pm


Jamesaritchie
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RE: "Readability" Factors?

Postby Jamesaritchie » Fri Feb 17, 2006 7:06 pm

The best way to find out what the gold standard is would be to run some of your favorite novels through the grammar check program. You don't need to run an entire novel through. Just two or three pages will usually give you a very accurate score, and you can often get these from the book preview pages at such sites as Amazon.

But I can tell you that usually the lower the score, the better. From my experience, most novels run from grade five to grade seven, and vocabulary and sentence complexity are seldom above the twenties, and often much lower.

I think the last novel I checked was King's "Riding the Bullet." It came out:

Grade level: 5.32
Passive voice: 2%
Sentence complexity: 25
Vocabulary complexity: 9

From my experience, this is pretty typical of both genre and literary novels. On occasion, a novel will almost go off the scale in every area, but it's usually an experimental, literary novel. And now and then a science fiction novel will have the vocabulary scale go way up because of the number of long, scientific words that must be used, though the main narrative still remains roughly the same as other novels.

Sentence complexity can be the real killer. When sentences get too complex, people tend to stop reading because they have to focus on the writing, rather than on the story and the characters.


I'm not an expert, but I have run many short stories and novels through Flesch-Kincaid, and I'd say the vast majority of novels fall roughly into:


Grade level: 5 to 8
Passive voice: 2 to 5%
Sentence complexity: 12 to 35, with most somewhere in the teens or even lower.
Vocabulary complexity: 5 to 12

You can get excerpts for almost any writer by typing something like Lawrence Block excerpt.
To see where your own writing should fall, I think it's a good idea to do with with two or three or four of your favorite writers in teh genre you wish to write in. But believe me, lower is usually better for fiction.

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