Whether you’re browsing a book, checking email or poring over an instruction manual, reading is fundamental to your ability to understand it. But as a content creator, did you know that your writing affects how easily someone can understand you? That’s where a reading level check comes into play. If you’re looking for an easy way to check reading level of text, read on as we demystify the process and make readability easier to understand than ever.
What is Readability and Why Does It Matter?
Readability is simply the ease with which a reader can understand a given text. Keep in mind that not every reader has the same background, education level or even vocabulary. Readability formulas exist to give writers and content creators a greater idea of the approximate reading level (age or grade level) of their writing so that they can make it more informal, more conversational or more professional depending on the context and topic.
Readability matters for several reasons. Most notably because when readers understand your content, they’re more likely to engage with it and share it. Beyond better engagement and communication, readability also affects your search engine ranking. Online content that’s easier to read tends to rank higher than content that is more complex.
What Factors Affect Readability in a Text?
There are several factors that affect readability in text – some of which you can control, and some which may be out of your hands. These factors include:
Simple vs. Complex Word Choice - Choosing simpler words over more complex formulations makes your content easier to read and mentally digest.
Sentence Length and Complexity - Short and simple sentences are easier to read, especially on screens and mobile devices.
Active vs. Passive Voice - Active voice (“the dog ate the cake”) is easier to understand than passive voice (“the cake was eaten by the dog”).
Use of Jargon or Technical Language - Although use of industry-specific jargon, acronyms and terminology is sometimes a must, depending on who the audience is, it may be a good idea to lessen it. Saying “the patient’s hematoma was in the periosteal layer” is accurate for medical students, but “the patient had a blood clot near the bone” would be better for the average reader.
Paragraph Structure and Length - Paragraphs that are too long and dense are difficult and tiresome to read. Take the time to organize your paragraphs and plan out your structure before you begin writing.
Typography and Layout - Although the design choices may be entirely out of your hands, some choices, like cursive fonts, minimal line spacing and light gray text on a white background, are much harder to read than your average sans-serif font with contrasting colors (such as black text on a white background).
How Do You Improve Readability?
Now that you better understand the factors that affect readability and why they’re important, how do you actually go about improving readability? If you want to improve readability of text, follow these tips:
Maintain Consistency in Style and Tone
Making sure that your writing maintains a consistent style and tone creates a better reading experience and helps reduce the concentration needed by the user to understand what you’re writing.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids, including charts, tables, graphs, images and infographics can help lend greater context to what you’re writing while explaining more complex concepts in a way that’s easy to visually digest.
Make Ample Use of Whitespace
Ample whitespace around paragraphs, images and other elements on the page makes reading easier on the eyes, especially on small screens.
Make Use of Transitional Words and Phrases
Transitional words and phrases like “however”, “in addition” and “for example” help to illustrate your points while guiding users through your arguments, making the reading process smoother as a whole.
Include a Table of Contents
If you have a longer article, including a table of contents with links can help readers navigate to the section they’re most interested in.
Highlight Key Points
Bolding or highlighting key points makes it easier for readers to visually scan an article. Making good use of headings, subheadings, bullet points and other structural elements also takes much of the cognitive load off of the user and makes the page less overwhelming to read.
Use Captions with Your Images
Like infographics, captions with images help to simplify complex text and give meaning to charts, graphs and other details.
One Idea Per Paragraph
Staying to one idea per paragraph makes it easier for readers to fully understand your content and follow your train of thought.
Keep Your Content Updated
Making sure your content is relevant and current can help prevent inaccuracies and errors and help to build your credibility and trust, encouraging users to continue to read more of what you publish.
Reading Level Checks: How Do They Work?
There are a variety of formulas and tools available to help you check reading level of text. Some of the most popular ones include:
Flesch Reading Ease - This formula gives the author a score between 0 and 100. The higher the score, the easier the text is to read. The Flesch Reading Ease scale considers things such as the average sentence length and average number of syllables per word in its calculations.
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level - This readability formula provides an approximate U.S. grade level for a given text. For example, a score of 8.0 would mean that the text could be understood by students in the eighth grade (13-14 years old).
Gunning Fog Index - This formula estimates the number of years that a reader would need in order to understand the text when they read it the first time.
SMOG Index - SMOG stands for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook and calculates readability based on the number of multiple syllable words in a text.
Many readability checkers leverage sophisticated mathematical formulas in order to calculate a general age range, grade level or readability score. If you’d like to check the readability of your own content, try Originality.AI’s readability checker. This free readability checker allows you to check reading level of text on all of the aforementioned readability formulas and many more, giving you the full picture of the readability of your writing.