I am so readable. (Oops. Too many syllables.)

Posted by in Uncategorized, writing on Sep 23, 2012

Have you ever wondered what those “readability scores” are about? Me too.  Here’s how one of my novels plays out on the metrics.

Readability (learn more)Compared with other books
Fog Index:5.8
5% are easier95% are harder
Flesch Index:79.5
5% are easier95% are harder
Flesch-Kincaid Index:4.3
4% are easier96% are harder
Complex Words:6%
8% have fewer92% have more
Syllables per Word:1.4
10% have fewer90% have more
Words per Sentence:8.6
7% have fewer93% have more
Number of
57% have fewer43% have more
62% have fewer38% have more
88% have fewer12% have more
Fun stats
Words per Dollar:5,514
Words per Ounce:6,300

Readability scores from Amazon.com are (were?) available inside the Look Inside feature. (They seem to have disappeared. Let me know if you can find them.) You can get some of the same information from your word processing program. Here is the Microsoft Word info. Think your sentences are too long for middle-grade readers? Are you too academic for the general public? Plug in the readability scoring to your document and get it analyzed. For whatever it’s worth.

The chart above made me pause: 466,209 characters? Wow, that’s too many for one novel. Oh, those kind of characters…

Then I realized that based on the Wikipedia info below, the grade level test, the Flesch-Kincaid score, isn’t interpreted correctly. A score of 4.3 doesn’t mean 4% are easier. It means it is readable at a 4th grade level. I guess I took out all the big words. The basic Flesch score is also (big word alert)  inaccurately stated. A score of 79% means it easily understood by 11 to 13 year olds, not that 95% are harder (although they very well may be.)

Here’s how you can run your own readability tests without using a software program beyond one that counts words and sentences. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Flesch Reading Ease test

In the Flesch Reading Ease test, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read; lower numbers mark passages that are more difficult to read. The formula for the Flesch Reading Ease Score (FRES) test is

<br /> 206.835 - 1.015 left ( frac{mbox{total words}}{mbox{total sentences}} right ) - 84.6 left ( frac{mbox{total syllables}}{mbox{total words}} right )<br />

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below.

90.0–100.0easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
60.0–70.0easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students
0.0–30.0best understood by university graduates

Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level

These readability tests are used extensively in the field of education. The “Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level Formula” translates the 0–100 score to a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10. The grade level is calculated with the following formula:

<br /> 0.39 left ( frac{mbox{total words}}{mbox{total sentences}} right ) + 11.8 left ( frac{mbox{total syllables}}{mbox{total words}} right ) - 15.59<br />

The result is a number that corresponds with a grade level. For example, a score of 8.2 would indicate that the text is expected to be understandable by an average student in 8th grade (usually around ages 12–14 in the United States of America).

How does this help us write better fiction?

Good question. As a beginner it may help you find confidence in your voice. Maybe you are worried your sentences are run-on and endless (although that wouldn’t make you unique on the bestseller list.) Maybe you want to make your fiction more accessible to all grade levels. Or find the right tone for a certain group of child-readers. Maybe you want to be the next Dr. Seuss! Check his readability scores. Or maybe it’s just a fun way to dissect your work and see what’s going on. That’s my take, anyway.

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