BlogThe Writing ProcessHow to Use Readability Scores

How to Use Readability Scores

The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.
Published Mar 11, 2020

What are readability scores?

  1. Why is Readability Important?
  2. What Are Readability Scores?
  3. What Do High Readability Scores Mean For Your Reader?
  4. Does It Mean I’m Dumbing Down My Work If I Have a Low Readability Score?
  5. How Do I Use a Readability Checker?
  6. What Questions Should I Ask Myself When My Work Has a High Readability Score?
  7. Put Your Document to the Readability Test

Why is Readability Important?

It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to prove yourself as a talented author is to make your work easier to read, not harder. If your language is too difficult for your readers to easily understand, you'll turn them off from reading. It's not about impressing by showing off all the fancy words you know; it's about making your work accessible and enjoyable.

ProWritingAid's Readability Report gives you an idea of how easy (or difficult) your work is to read and makes recommendations for areas that you can change to improve your document's readability. In this article, we'll cover how you can learn about your document's readability using ProWritingAid.

Two different ProWritingAid reports give you your readability scores:

1) The Summary Report

The Summary Report provides you with a variety of readability scores that have been calculated using some of the top tools out there. It also breaks down your readability by paragraph, highlighting how many easy-to-read, slightly difficult-to-read, and very difficult-to-read paragraphs are in your document.

2) The Readability Report

The Readability Report goes into more depth, identifying exactly which paragraphs are easy or difficult to read so you can dive right in and make needed changes. The Readability Report also offers an estimated reading time for your document.

In this article, we’ll explain what readability scores are, what they mean for your readers, and how you can use them to edit your work.

What Are Readability Scores?

Readability scores

A readability score is a number that tells you how easy it is for someone to read your work. Readability scores look at factors like sentence length, syllable density, and word familiarity to tell you what groups of readers will be able to access your text.

Different readability checks use different scoring systems, but they all work in basically the same way, telling you what level of reader could understand your work. For instance, a readability score that equates to seventh grade means that an average seventh grader could read and understand your work.

What Do High Readability Scores Mean For Your Reader?

The higher the readability score, the more advanced your text is and the harder it is to comprehend. A readability score of twelfth grade, for instance, means that anyone with a lesser vocabulary will struggle to be able to fully understand what you’ve written.

If one of your documents earns a high readability score, it can mean a number of different things:

  • You’re using too much jargon. When you use jargon, you’re using specialized, domain-specific terms that are difficult for your reader to understand.
  • Your sentences are too long. Long, windy sentences can increase your readability scores. Write the way you speak: simply and clearly.
  • Your vocabulary is too advanced. While complicated words might earn you tons of points in Scrabble, they’re typically a barrier of entry for your readers. You don’t need to make your vocabulary super complicated to prove that you’re an effective writer.

These are just some of the issues that might be affecting your readability scores.

Does It Mean I’m Dumbing Down My Work If I Have a Low Readability Score?

Many writers feel like they need to show off their impressive vocabulary and flowery prose to legitimize themselves. That couldn’t be further from the truth!

Reading is all about comprehension. If the average middle school seventh grader can’t understand what you’ve written, then you’re creating confusion. 
You want your reader to understand what you’ve written without working too hard. That means you need to make your language simpler, not more complicated.

Making your work more complicated will actually lose you readers, not gain them.

As Albert Einstein said:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

That being said: you know your audience. If you're writing a technical manual, your work will be at a higher level than if you're writing a children's book. Consider what the people reading your document will understand when interpreting your readability scores.

How Do I Use a Readability Checker?

You can use ProWritingAid's Readability Report to dial into the paragraphs in your document that need to be easier to read. ProWritingAid can take you paragraph by paragraph and show you what needs to be changed to improve readability.

When you run the readability report, each paragraph is highlighted with how difficult it is to read. A green underline means the work is easy to read; yellow means it is more difficult; red text is the most difficult to read. You'll also get your Flesch–Kincaid score so you can see how close the paragraph is to your goal score of 60.

You can see these features demonstrated in the below screenshot:

Readabilty measures

As you can see from the screenshot, this paragraph is difficult to read, so the checker advises simplifying it. Reading back through the paragraph, you can see that the author uses difficult terms like "collateral," as well as some domain-specific terminology. While you don't have to remove all terms (in a history article, for instance, it would be nearly impossible to remove all historical names), you can always simplify to make your work easier to understand. For example, swapping out "King of Poland and Hungary" for "another king" improves the readability without detracting from the overall meaning of the work. It's up to you as an author to use your discretion to change parts of your work that will help your reader, while still maintaining the integrity of what you're trying to convey.

ProWritingAid Readability Report

What Questions Should I Ask Myself When My Work Has a High Readability Score?

If your Readability or Summary Report indicates that your document has a high readability score, here are some questions you should ask yourself:

  • Am I using too much jargon?
  • Am I using accessible vocabulary that everyone can understand?
  • Are my sentences short and to the point?
  • Am I writing in the active voice?
  • Am I writing clearly and concisely?
  • Am I getting directly to my point without wandering around too much in my prose?
  • Can I trim the fat off of my sentences?

Remember, readability is influenced by a variety of factors. While simplifying your vocabulary will bring your readability down, you'll need to look at your document holistically to have the most effect.

Put Your Document to the Readability Test

The Readability Report and Summary Report can help you identify areas in your work that you can simplify or make more clear for your readers. This will provide a better reading experience for your readers.

One final note: you are the judge and jury about making readability changes. While ProWritingAid uses a pretty heavy-hitting algorithm, it still is just an algorithm and doesn’t understand your audience like you do. You make the final decision on what to change and what to leave to make your work stand out from the crowd and stay in line with your unique voice.

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The ProWritingAid Team
ProWritingAid: A grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.

The most successful people in the world have coaches. Whatever your level of writing, ProWritingAid will help you achieve new heights. Exceptional writing depends on much more than just correct grammar. You need an editing tool that also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre. ProWritingAid helps you find the best way to express your ideas.

I am not convinced you measure 'difficult to read' but 'difficult to understand.' Each time I include a non-English name or expression, or a non-American view, the sentence is regarded as 'difficult to read." Is this difficult to READ? Two artists discussing paintings by Frances Bacon. “Terrible paintings,” Erik said. “Only contorted people.” What exactly is it that is difficult to read? Terrible paintings? Erik said? Only contorted people? Similarly, when a person express a Darwinist view of human existence, it is deemed to be difficult to read. I can see no difficulty to read in the following piece of dialogue between two persons: "There’s only survival or extermination. This principle has created everything you can see around you, yourself included.” what exactly is difficult to read in this paragraph?
By brfkol4 on 04 March 2018, 08:38 AM
I agree. Kids, especially those who are avid readers now have a much higher level of vocabulary due to technology and social media. It in now 2018 so Prowriting needs to update it 'Readability Scale.
By Alice McClary on 25 May 2018, 02:36 PM
This discuses different reading difficulty measures, but I can't find any way to change which one it uses. The Dale-Chall method would be more useful for me and my habits than Flesch.
By LondonC on 12 January 2019, 09:12 PM
I can see how the Readability Scale might have a negative impact our school kids and their education. It makes no sense to “read down” to them. Instead, they should learn to “read up” to us. I recall struggling to grasp the concept of a new task. It was only after I understood the idea, could the trial-and-error phase of applying the lesson begin. Confusion, discovering facts myself, and the hard work learning brings are the main factors that solidified my knowledge. I doubt I’d still remember much of what I learned if those lessons had come easy. As long as we proceed to dumb everything down, our children will continue to keep pace with the decline.
By allievshu on 21 February 2019, 05:03 AM
As a high school student, who uses this for her essays, it is helpful to know that I am writing on my level, and not below. Sometimes I feel like we are made to believe that if you don't get an A or high B, then you are behind the rest of your grade. It's nice to know that I'm doing good and that even though I may not make an A or B, it is still an adequate essay. Especially because math and science are the subjects I'm good at, not English.
By laurenesmit on 28 February 2019, 03:05 AM
I find that this measure helps me keep the writing at what is expected of doctoral students.
By rlino27 on 08 March 2019, 04:00 AM
This is the best tool I have ever used. I can see tht I have already iproved my writing skills and my understnding of good writing techniques and disciplines! Only one question pertaining to dialogue: I feel it's more natural to use appropriate phrases, jargonl imnterjections, etc and sometimes the algorithm will 'yell' at me and offer changes that,m while they are more standard English, they will sound stilted. I'm using GENERAL WRITING, I wonder if I should change to another kind? I am writing a memoir based in a foreign country (Italy) that uses several Italian words, alos. Anyway I thank you for offering PRO WRITING!
By Mb.artwork on 03 May 2019, 12:26 AM
how can I know what is the measure of seventh graders?
By malak.m.alfaouri on 14 June 2019, 08:04 AM
how can I know what is the measure of seventh graders?
By malak.m.alfaouri on 14 June 2019, 08:04 AM
Some issues don't always apply to fiction. For example when writing a first person period piece I get a lot of syle errors that I wouldn't get in a contemporaty piece. Have I missed something? For example, are there initial questions asking what genre or time period the piece represents?
By cazabel01 on 16 June 2019, 01:17 AM
ProWritingAid is a good tool. However, I agree with the comment made by ‘allievshu’. I have been struggling with some pieces I have written, which consistently come back as ‘hard to read’. The whole idea of language is to find the right word, portraying accurately the sense in which you want to use it. If I cannot use a word, I would like to use, then I am in effect writing as someone else, i.e. I am being told to write in a way that is not my own. Is the onus not also on the reader to extend their language use as well as for the writer to make their words coherent? Therefore, would not a reading level for your perceived reader be appropriate?
By royjackaman1 on 15 July 2019, 09:22 PM
This makes me sick. It's a sad world when we're being forced to dumb down our writing for the sake of others. Clarity, I agree with. But not using larger vocabulary words for the sake of readers is disgraceful. I read to learn. I don't have the largest vocabulary out there, but when I read any novel, I have a highlighter alongside me. As I read the book, I highlight all the unknown words and look them up online or in a dictionary. I don't always remember what I looked up. In fact, more often than not, I don't remember the word's meaning at all. But the more I read and the more I search for unknown words; the more likely I am to increase my vocabulary. And the words I do remember, I will continue to use in my writing. If you don't use the knowledge you've learned, you'll lose it. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will appreciate learning a new word too.
By mindexplore4 on 29 July 2019, 09:39 PM
I received feedback i the report there was a paragraph that was very difficult to read but it was not highlighted. what should i do to correct this?
By yachtimagination on 12 August 2019, 04:00 PM
This is fine, except the tool can't handle News Broadcaster dialogue. Every time I write a news Headline dialogue, without fail those specific paragraphs are rated between 30 and 55. No matter what I do. Can you please explain why your system has not been calibrated for this?
By sswishbone on 31 August 2019, 07:50 PM

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