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WRITE AT A READING LEVEL TO MAXIMIZE YOUR READERSHIP

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.

"Thank you very much for your fantastic help. I went to the site and put in our self-care guide for cancer patients.  Bottom line, my team and I've got some work to do to bring our text down to lower reading levels."
Phensiri Dumrongpakapakorn, PhD student at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing

INSURE YOU ARE COMMUNICATING CORRECTLY WITH YOUR READERS

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 Inde, Dale-Chall formula

Then we discoved a great tool powered by the open source project, PHP Text Statistics, http://code.google.com/p/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.

RELATED RESOURCES

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.

November 11, 2008
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