I still find writing tough, especially when I need to provide instructions. It can be hard to know when your writing is easy to read. However, Microsoft Word offers some features that can improve your text readability. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to set up Readability Statistics and two free alternatives.
What are Readability Statistics
For as long as I can remember, Microsoft Word has had “readability statistics.” The dialog contains three sections covering counts, averages, and readability.
Most people focus on the Readability section unless you sell stories by the word. These metrics provide quick feedback about your writing in relation to your intended audience. For example, in the screen snap above, the document’s reading level is written for someone in the 14th year of their education.
In addition, many companies and organizations want authors to write to a specific grade level. Another common example is a school textbook, which is written for a specific grade. For example, the science book you had in the 3rd grade had different words and structure than the one you had in 10th grade.
If you look at the Wikipedia entry for readability tests, you’ll see entries for more than a dozen tests. However, most word processors focus on the Flesh Reading Ease and Flesch Kincaid Grade Level scores.
Many of these formulas are based on weighted combinations of three factors:
- Total words
- Total syllables
- Total sentences
Set Word Readability Statistics
Microsoft has provided readability statistics in Word for as long as I can remember. However, the feature has been overlooked by many writers because it’s optional. Once you enable the option, Microsoft Word will display the results after you finish checking a document. However, there are a couple of caveats that can prevent it from working.
- Open Microsoft Word.
- From the File menu, select Options in the lower left.
- In the Word Options dialog, select Proofing from the left column.
- In the When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section, select Show readability statistics.
- Click OK.
Now, when you check your entire document for spelling and grammar, you should see your statistics. However, sometimes spell check problems can interfere. In previous Word versions, you could elect to proof specific sections.
Why Readability Stats Don’t Show
There are several scenarios that prevent the stats from showing.
- You didn’t enable the Show readability statistics checkbox in the Proofing panel.
- You didn’t enable Check grammar and refinements in the Editor Pane.
- You must first correct or ignore all the Editor pane errors and refinements. You need to have a checkmark in the quantity count for each category.
Mark Errors As You Type
Some writers prefer to have Word mark spelling and grammar errors as they type. This has the advantage of reducing the error count by the time you do your final check. Likewise, your category counts in the Editor pane should be lower.
However, many writers like to do drafts without seeing the squiggly red lines. If they want their reading statistics, they’ll either need to correct the errors or ignore. This can be time consuming which is why some authors prefer to use other services.
Other Readability Tools
There are also online tools to analyze the readability of web pages. For these situations, I found Juicy Studio to be good. This is a well-documented site that allows you to enter a URL and see the results. In addition, the site provides scores from known publications for comparison. For example, you can see the readability results for one of my tutorials below.
One thing to be careful of is non-related text that might appear on a webpage that might skew the results. For example, many of my tutorials have a related articles section.
Another option is to copy and paste your document into an online tool like Automatic Readability Checker. This tool takes a little more effort, but provides a different set of statistics. It also provides annotations that provide more details. This is also a good choice if you need to copy and paste your readability statistics for others.
Readability statistics can be useful in evaluating your writing, but they shouldn’t be the sole criteria for evaluating reading ease. Sadly, I can have a very good score but fail to put in some required steps in my instruction. There are many more factors, including humor, which may not always translate well.
And my web designer friends tell me that site design and usability play a role. Even font types play a role. But if you need to write to a specific grade level, Word’s Readability Statistics are handy and informative.