One way to improve your writing is to use a Microsoft Word tool called Readability Statistics. Readability Statistics is that grey box that pops up after you do a spell check in Word.
Many people ignore this pop-up. But if you want to
improve your writing, pay attention to it.
First, you have to make sure you turn on the Readability Statistics tool. That’s simple.
In Word 2007:
· click on the Windows button in the top left corner of your screen, and then on Word Options;
· when you are in the Word Options pop-up, click on Proofing on the left;
· under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure that Show readability statistics is checked.
In Word 2003:
· click on the Tools drop-down menu;
· then Options;
· then the Spelling and Grammar tab;
· toward the bottom of the tab, under Grammar, make sure the Show readability statistics is checked.
Now, run spelling and grammar check through your document. At the very end of the process, the Readability Statistics will pop up.
The pop-up has three areas.
The first area – Counts – tells you how many
words, characters, paragraphs, and sentences are in your document. Though you
might not need to know how many characters your document has, knowing how many
words it has is often helpful.
Say you are writing an article, and your editor is saving space for your 1,500 word masterpiece. She won’t be pleased if you turn in only 400. Or say your boss asks you to read an article and write a 250-word abstract he can digest before a big meeting. He won’t be happy if you give him 2,000 words.
Writing to a specific length is not easy. Knowing how much room you have to say something and then hitting that target takes practice.
The second area of Readability Statistics shows you:
· how many sentences you have per paragraph;
· how many words per sentence; and
· how many characters per word.
These are valuable measures. Remember that they are averages.
Target numbers for each average are roughly as follows.
Sentences per paragraph: aim for at least 2.5 and preferably a number somewhere between 3 and 5. Any paragraph with fewer than two sentences probably won’t be developing its topic adequately. Any paragraph with more than six or seven sentences may be wandering or going into too much detail.
Words per sentence: aim for a number between 15 and 20. If the number is over 20, you probably have a few too many long sentences around (remember, it’s an average.) And a number lower than 15 may suggest that you are writing too many short sentences: ok for a child or language learner, but probably not for your usual readership. The most common problems with sentence length are that writers produce sentences that are too long or too complicated.
Characters per word: aim for a number between four and six. English uses lots of very short words; if this average goes too high, it means you are using too many long words.
This section gives you three scores.
The first measure is of the number of passive
sentences you have written. The passive voice means that the object of a
sentence has something done to it. (“The ball was thrown by Jim.”) This differs
from the active voice, where the subject is doing something (“Jim threw the
We prefer active verbs to passive ones. Passive verbs are not incorrect. You might want to use a passive verb when you don’t know who did something, or you don’t want to admit it (“A mistake was made in processing the application…”)
Passive verbs make your writing – well – passive! Though there may be times you want to use the passive voice, too much use of this voice makes your writing slow, plodding, and uninteresting. Transform as many passives into actives as you can.
Flesch-Reading Ease Score
This is based on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand your document. It’s pretty hard to achieve a score higher than about 60.
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score
This score relates to
For those of us not in the
1st Grade 6–7
2nd Grade 7–8
3rd Grade 8–9
4th Grade 9–10
5th Grade 10–11
6th Grade 11–12
7th Grade 12–13
8th Grade 13–14
10th Grade (Sophomore) 15-16
11th Grade (Junior) 16-17
12th Grade (Senior) 17–18
So a Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level score of 10 will mean that you are aiming roughly at ‘an educated reader’ of about 15 years old.
Now this is a bit complicated. Educated where? And how? And what about adults?
To keep matters simple, we can say that the best score to aim for is somewhere between 7 and 10.
If you really want to know exactly how the two readability scores are calculated, you can read all about it here.
It’s important to note that Word generates these statistics mechanically. I am not at all sure how accurate they are. But they do alter if you edit a piece of text well. They also offer some kind of objective measure of the quality of a piece of writing.