Do You Write For Your Audience’s Reading Level?

Can You Read This?

Marketing: Writing Tools


Is your writing reaching your readers? Or are you writing above their heads and turning them away? Whether you are creating surveys, website articles, blogs, or any other materials, it’s important for your audience to be drawn to your writing. One way is to test the reading level of your writing.

We’ve been taught over the years that newspapers should write to a 6th or 8th grade reading level. Some studies have shown, and it’s logical to expect that readership is directly correlated to writing to readers’ reading levels.

Want to test your writing? Read on.


Through my good friend, Anne Davis, we received a request for a tool to test the reading level of a self-care guide for cancer patients being designed by a team of Ph.D. candidates in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing.

Internally, we also wanted a test for our own writing. And we wanted to understand the criteria within any test we used. So we did some research, and found a number of tools designed over the years to calculate readability:

  • Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease, Flesch Kincaid Grade Level, Gunning Fog Score, Coleman Liau Index, SMOG Index, Automated Reability Index,┬áDale-Chall formula

Then we discovered a great tool powered by the open source project, PHP Text Statistics,, which has created a PHP class for giving information about text, including readability scores. This updated class was released under a BSD License in August 2008.

With thanks to the folks at PHP Text Statistics, we’ve incorporated this class for your use.

P.S. For what it’s worth, we tested one of our research tools pages, thinking we were writing for about 12th grade level, and found it was at 17.5.



Do you want to explore more about reading levels? Here are three articles we found very interesting. Each of them tests reading levels of various publications and specific articles.

He tested readability of various publications from The Times of India (grade 15) to The Daily Mirror (grade 9), and provides tables over time for various publications.

“Two magazines with the largest circulations in the world, TV Guide and Readers Digest, are written at the 9th-grade reading level. The newspaper with the largest circulation in the world, the Sun, is written at the 9th-grade reading level. USA Today is written at the 10th-grade level.”

In the article, he discusses the insightful book, A Writer’s Coach: The Complete Guide to Writing Strategies That Work by Jack R. Hart

Part of his discussion is about the great book, The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism In The Information Age by Philip Meyer.

“In the last chapter of the ‘Vanishing Newspaper,’ I learned that reporters too dumb for sources. In Chapter 6 of Philip Meyer’s new book, I find out that newspapers are too smart for their readers. Talk about a conundrum of the damned.”

I enjoyed his use of the Flesch-Kincaid index to test readability of the most popular blogs (based on the Truth Laid Bear Ecosystem), which showed Instapundit at a grade level, 10.0, and Daily Kos with a grade level, 12.0.


Are you tired yet of calculating sampling errors manually? We gave up in 1981 and wrote a simple calculator to determine the random sample size needed for our surveys at a given statistical validity (or the reverse). We’ve integrated it into our real-time customer and patient satisfaction systems. Now we’ve decided you deserve to use it as well. So it’s coming soon, just for you.


Let us know what we can provide that could make your research and marketing communications easier.

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6 Responses to “Do You Write For Your Audience’s Reading Level?”

  1. Greg Pashke Says:


    Thanks for the insightful perspective for all writers regarding the importance of targeting their communications to their specific audience. You've given us both some valuable insight and a helpful tool to hone our skills. I always learn from your thoughtful messages.

  2. David VanAmburg Says:

    Thanks much, Greg. For other readers, Greg Pashke, CPA is one of my longest standing friends on the planet, in that we met in first grade and he still puts up with me. His monthly eLetter is worth gold, weaving common sense insights with his great humor. I learn from him every time. You can subscribe at I am hopeful that someday he'll share some of his great writings on this site. We've begun a periodic Sunday morning online coffee conversation that I hope to edit and share with other readers soon.

  3. Danny Lucas Says:

    This astonishes me!
    I am still digesting all the wonderful wrting at Think Big Erie, and now, you come up with this. I ran YOUR post through the test to see how the audience target rated.
    Here it is:

    I ran the Gettysburg Address and Abe flies through fine.
    I tried JFK's Inaugural Address…"Ask Not" speech. You need a 60 to 80 range and Kennedy is 59. Hmmm.

    I ran several of my online comments (including one from Dumb Little Man).
    Your test link confirms that I have dumbed down.
    Do you have a link to smart up?

    I have to tell you, David. You are by far one of the best writers I have encountered.

    Best regards,
    Danny Lucas

  4. David VanAmburg Says:

    Danny, your comment means the world to me. Thanks! I love your writing and the thoughtfulness you bring to the reader. please don't add too many syllables. :)

    Danny has been a prolific commenter, and certainly one of my favorites, on Peter Panepento's great site, which provides multiple blogs with a positive regional focus on Erie County and northwest Pennsylvania.

    Peter is an editor for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, who retains a commitment to Erie from his days as respected business reporter for the Erie Times News. He provides a valuable "watering hole" for Erie expatriates around the globe.

    From September through December of 2007, I wrote daily posts for the site, at least some of which are still available at

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