Let's start with a common one that you may have and not even know it.
Microsoft Word has a "Spelling & Grammar" checker (I use Word 2007, and it's located on the "Review" tab) and it gives you two slightly different "Readability" numbers:
- the Flesch Reading Ease (I'll just call it the FRE) score, which is a number between 0.0 and 100.0, and
- the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (FK), which Wikipedia says "translates the 0–100 score to a U.S. grade level, making it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, and others to judge the readability level of various books and texts. It can also mean the number of years of education generally required to understand this text, relevant when the formula results in a number greater than 10."
If you go to Readability-Score.com, you can get the results from several different tests that all give a grade level:
- the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level listed above,
- the Gunning-Fog Score,
- the Coleman-Liau Index,
- the SMOG Index (I love that name!),
- the Automated Readability Index, and
- an average of them all.
- the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 0.9
- the Gunning-Fog Score: 2.8
- the Coleman-Liau Index: 6.9
- the SMOG Index: 2.4
- the Automated Readability Index: 0
- the average: 2.6
While I'm writing, I rely on the 2 Flesch levels most because they're built into Word and very easy to use. If I can get the Flesch levels around 98-99 and 1.0, I know I'll have something in the correct ballpark.
But ultimately I think reading level is a matter of opinion. Therefore you should get a good opinion! That's why I have a librarian look over my books after I have something I'm pretty happy with. They use somewhat different criteria for determining reading levels.
Learning how to change what you write in order to manipulate the grade levels can be tricky. There are a few basic concepts that can help you get the reading level to move in the right general direction, though. I'll look at those in my next post.