A while ago the issue of readability caught fire on a few chat loops and spread out of control. It seems an editor told a writer in a pitch that they were looking for manuscripts written on the fourth to fifth grade reading level for their adult audience. The writer was shocked and interpreted this meant she was expected to "dumb down" her work. She expressed her concern on the loops and the debate began. Responses ranged from outrage to acceptance.
The request for a readability score is not so unusual as some may think. It's accepted fact that most newspapers are written on the 3rd grade level. The NY Times averages a 5th grade reading level; the Wall Street Journal is rated 11th grade. The Harry Potter books range from 4.9 to 7.8, increasing with Harry's years at Hogwarts. Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series are all between 4.9 and 4.5 as are all of Judy Blume's books regardless of their target age group.
Finding the reading level of you own work is a function of counting words, number of syllables, number of sentences. Calculate the average of words per sentence and syllables per word. Then multiply the average number of syllables per word by 84.6 and subtract it from the average number of words multiplied by 1.015. Finally, subtract the result from 206.835. You should test at least three 100 word sections from beginning, middle, and end of your work and average your results. Luckily, for historical writers, you can skip all place names and other proper nouns in your count.
If all this has you scratching your head and you use Word, you're in luck. You can turn the readability function on in your grammar check.
1. Open Word.
2. Click the Microsoft Office Button and click Word Options.
3. Click Proofing.
4. Place a check beside the Show readability statistics option.
5. Click OK.
Now when you click the Spelling and Grammar button on the Standard toolbar, the results will include information about the reading level of your document.
Readability and reading level are two different measurements. Readability is a percentage and represents the percent of the reading population who will be able to understand the work. Reading level is the grade level (or years in school) that reflects the literacy level of the work. A 50% readability will mean 50% of readers will understand it. A 4.5 reading level means a 4th grade, 5th month average student should be able to comprehend it.
Of course none of these formulas calculate the appropriateness of the content, or the complexity of the ideas in the work. No one expects a 4.5 level book by J.D. Robb, for example to appeal to a 4th grader.
According to those who have tested a range of popular authors, the lower reading level the more books that author sells on average. In his book Fiction Writer's Brainstormer, James V. Smith Jr. analyzed the works of various fiction writers, both literary and genre, on the NY Times bestseller list and found all their books fell in the average 4th grade grade reading with a range of 2.6 to 6.3 and an average readability of 83%.
From this, Smith developed his "Ideal Writing Standard" for writers to use when editing and revising their work: No less than an 80% readability on the Flesch Reading Ease scale and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level between 4 and 6.
More information on this topic can be found by searching "reading level" and "readability" online. One interesting website is <http://www.juicystudio.com/services/readability.php > which includes a way to instantly determine the readability of a website. Mine was 4.6 RL and 74% readability. MORWA.org's was 7.5 and 57%. Nora Robert's was 3.8 and 75%
Email me and I will gladly send you a PDF of a copyright free graph that you can use to manually check the reading level of your work.
Leave a comment for a chance to win a collectible teddy bear because you're never to old to need a hug. No reading level needed to comprehend that.