What Is Flesch Reading Ease?

What is Flesch Reading Ease?
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Flesch Reading Ease is a test that measures the complexity of writing. It helps writers to understand why some writing is easy to read, while other things they’ve written require more effort.

Part of the test includes a grade level component that tells you if the content could be read by a child. This is designed to help you simplify your language.

But readability goes beyond the Flesch Reading Ease score.

What Is the Flesch Reading Ease Score?

Since the 1800s, linguists and researchers have developed methods to assess how quickly someone can comprehend a written piece of text. They do this by measuring things like:

  • Reading speed
  • Speed of perception
  • How quickly a reader becomes fatigued.
person picking white and red book on bookshelf

On e method is ranking texts in a list, which is known as text levelling. This technique works well in books aimed at young children, but is less effective when evaluating texts written for an adult reader.

Another method is a vocabulary list. Making lists like these helps to match books to readers according to their current reading ability. Again, this is best for use with children whose reading ability is still developing.

About Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease

The Flesch-Kincaid reading ease test is one of the more popular formulas. Developed in 1943 by Rudolf Flesch, these readability tests are still so popular that Flesch-Kincaid is now one of the default readability options in Microsoft Word.

Flesch-Kincaid is also used by the Yoast plugin for WordPress to determine a readability score.

WordPress readability

How Flesch Reading Ease Works

Technically, Flesch-Kincaid is comprised of two different tests. There’s a Reading Ease test, and a Grade Level test. However, in practical terms, these tests are essentially the inverse of one another. A text with a high reading ease score will be readable by a low grade level, and vice versa.

Without going into the complicated mathematical formulas involved, the Flesch-Kincaid tests primarily look at two ratios:

  • The average sentence length (total number of words in relation to the total number of sentences)
  • The average word length (total number of syllables in relation to the total number of words.)

It is relatively easy to assess writing using Flesch-Kincaid compared to other tests. It doesn’t require much in terms of preparation or processing.

You can check your text against the Flesch-Kincaid formula using this online checker, or install a Chrome extension to check pages as you browse.

Dale-Chall Readability Level

The Dale-Chall readability formula was developed by Ohio State University professor Edgar Dale.

The Dale-Chall formula uses a list of 3,000 “easy words” to evaluate readability. Several 100-word samples are taken from throughout the work.

It’s harder to use than other reading tests, but arguably provides the most reliable results. It has a correlation of 0.93 with comprehension, compared with others that may score as low as 0.66.

white printer paper with black text

The Flesch Reading Ease test and the Dale-Chall compute sentence length in a similar way. The test then calculates the percentage of words that are not in the ‘easy words’ list.

Together, these two numbers give a score, which in turn correlates to a school grade level.

WordCountTools provides full details of the Dale-Chall formula.

Fry Readability Graph

The Fry Readability Graph is one of the newer readability tests. It was developed by Edward Fry in 1963.

The test calculates the average number of syllables and sentences per hundred words and plots them on a graph.

The Fry Readability Graph test has become one of the more popular readability formulas because of its ease of use, although it comes at the expense of being less reliable than other tests such as the Dale-Chall.

More Readability Checkers

Most of the readability tests we’ve talked about are designed for general usage.

You could look at other readability calculators designed for use in business:

Some of these are designed for very specific types of content. For example, the Linsear Write and Automated Readbility Index formulas are primarily used in technical writing. There are many others we haven’t mentioned, including a clutch of formulas aimed at making text easier for children to read.

How to Test the Readability of a Website

When determining the readability formula to use, it really comes down to personal preference.

Hundreds of studies and much arguing among academics has taken place on the accuracy of various methods, but they will all give a good insight into your writing. And for the average user, writing non-specialised content, the difference in results between different readability formulas will be insignificant.

The Flesch Reading Ease test in Yoast SEO is a reasonable guide, but it’s best not to compromise your writing too much for the sake of getting an acceptable score.

And when writing for the web, there are equally important layout and style rules that affect readability too.

Readability is About More Than Just Words

Readability is made up of other factors besides the words you choose. If you’re familiar with the abbreviation “TLDR” (too long, didn’t read), then you’ve likely encountered a giant block of text online that was formatted so poorly that you couldn’t bring yourself to read it.

With online content, readers have notoriously short attention spans. You really have to hook them early and keep them reading by frequently pulling them further in.

The text itself plays a significant role in online readability:

  • The font you choose, as well as the font size and how you vary it, will play a role.
  • The line height and length of your blog may impact how successful it is at getting people to read your text all the way through.
  • Keeping paragraphs short is key when writing online, as people will easily be intimidated by solid blocks of text. You can break things up with numbered lists or headings.
  • Bolding important words throughout your article for those readers who are just skimming can help
  • Eye candy will keep readers interested and give them some variation from just staring at the text. Mixing in some images or screenshots, along with graphics featuring quotes or excerpts will give your audience a brief intermission to digest what they’ve read so far before diving into the next paragraph
  • For longer posts, a table of contents is a must-have. Some readers may come to your page knowing exactly what they’re looking for, but don’t want to scroll through twenty pages to find what they’re looking for. TOC Plus is a great plugin for WordPress that can help you easily insert a table of contents into your post.

Quality is More Important Than a Readability Score

With all this emphasis on readability, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Keep in mind that the quality of your content is still the most important factor.

Achieving a high Flesch-Kincaid score can be tricky when writing about very high-level or technical subjects, which will always have a lower score than general business content. For example, technical blog posts almost always have a much lower readability score than general small business blogs. That’s perfectly fine. It’s about finding a balance between information and engagement.

Instead of scrutinising every text you write individually, it may be more helpful to look at the average readability score across all of your writing to identify your weakest areas.

How to Test Readability of Your Text

Readability tests should only be used as a guide. The Flesch Reading Ease score is a guide. But there are some situations where the content you write just isn’t a good fit.

person using smartphone

It’s also fair to say that the Flesch Reading Ease test is more useful when evaluating text, not when writing or editing it.

In general, writing the way you speak can be an excellent way to make your writing easier to understand.