No, the age of miracles hasn’t passed. I’m about to give you a free tool that will make you an instant expert on readability.
Readability? What’s that?
It’s the ability of a text to be read and understood. It’s vital to measure readability, for example, in choosing texts that will be understood by elementary or high-school students at their appropriate grade levels. And it’s also vital in court, for another example, to determine whether a typical consumer could understand the terms of a contract with an insurer.
In such cases it’s not enough to declare that a particular text is hard or easy to read. You have to have evidence to support that claim. And here is where the objective, replicable analyses of readability come in.
Other things being equal, the longer a sentence is and the more syllables per word it has, the harder it is to read. This is expressed in the Flesch Reading Ease test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level formula.
A similar measure is the Gunning fog index, measuring average sentence length and percentage of words that have three or more syllables.
The Coleman-Liau Index measures the average number of letters per word, rather than syllables.
The SMOG index (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook) is a variation on Gunning fog, again measuring words of three syllables or more.
And the Automated Readability Index counts letters, words, and sentences.
All this is nothing new. These formulas, and others like them, have been around for decades and achieve useful results, even though they simplify the complexity of language to focus on a few measurable variables.
Here’s the miracle that makes you an instant expert on readability: the free open-source website readability-score.com. Copy any text from your word processor or the Internet, paste it in the box marked “Text,” and in the blink of an eye you get results of each of the six readability tests I have mentioned, together with an overall average grade level.
There are some limitations: You have to convert poetry to prose for an accurate reading (that is, omit hard returns at the end of every line), and it won’t work well with languages other than English. But those are the limitations of the formulas, not of this instant consolidator.
As I said, it’s free, but for $16 a year you get access to the premium version that will measure the readability of a whole URL, alert you if the readability of a URL gets higher than you wish, and allow bulk processing.
Go ahead and give it a try with any text of your choosing or devising. I just checked Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and found in one second that it had an average grade level of 10.7, where “a score of around 10-12 is roughly the reading level on completion of high school.”
Donald Trump, in his March 21 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, had an average grade level of 7.8. As for the other candidates -- well, try it yourself and see what you find.