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Writing for the Web: Readability Testing

Visit Writing for the Web: Readability Testing


At our May WebTalk, Jeremy and Andy talked about writing for the web. There were two topics that stood out to me in their presentation; identifying your audience and writing content that is useful, clear and friendly. Early on in the presentation, Jeremy talked about knowing your audience. He had a bullet point titled “Demographics” on one of the slides. I would like to extend the conversation on writing for the web and address one area he listed under demographics; literacy.

Keep in mind that if your audience expects a certain type of writing, failing to meet that expectation may cause it to lose its value. Several reports state that the average adult reads at a seventh to ninth grade level. This doesn’t mean which grade level you are writing for but what the lowest level of education is needed to understand.

Writing at a fourteenth grade level doesn’t always equate to better writing. It is just the contrary. The content is likely confusing for the majority of your readers and will be difficult for them to comprehend. If you are writing a technical paper on an engineering discipline or something for a medical journal, writing at a fifth grade level would be inappropriate. Always remember to identify your audience and write at the appropriate demographic level.

Readability Testing Tools

How do we identify the grade level of our content? I find that it is always handy to have a wide variety of tools in my belt when working with the web. Below are a couple of readability testing tools that I would like to share.

The Hemingway Editor

One of my favorite tools is Hemingway Editor. According to their website, “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear. It’s like a spellchecker, but for style. It makes sure that your reader will focus on your message, not your prose. [It] will highlight (in yellow and red) where your writing is too dense.” The Hemingway Editor will grade your writing and offer suggestions on how to adjust the reading level of your content. I used the Hemingway Editor for this article and received an eighth grade level along with highlights of where my text was “hard” and “very hard” to read. I find the highlighting it does very useful as I can see where my content needs work.

The Readability Test Tool

Another tool that was recently brought to my attention is the Readability Test Tool. According to their website, “[the tool] provides a quick and easy way to test the readability of your work. It is the most flexible readability software for assessing readability formulas.” The only similarity it has with the Hemingway Editor is that it returns a grade level and how many words were analyzed. The Readability Test Tool will show how well the content scored over a set of readability indices. If you are familiar with the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease, the Gunning Fog Score or the SMOG index then this tool is up your alley. It doesn’t highlight your content like the Hemingway Editor does but it will tell you how your content scores in several indices.

Provide your feedback

Sound off in the comments if you have experience with either of these tools. For those that use a different tool, feel free to include that in the comments as well. Be sure to include what you like and don’t like about it.