One of the interesting tools I use when writing or evaluating other people’s writing is software that measures readability. If writing is too complex, say college level, it may be too difficult for middle or high school students to read. If it’s too simple, then adults may not think the content is for them.
The major ingredients of difficult writing are long words, sentences and paragraphs.
In general, writing should be at the ninth grade level to reach 50 percent of adults. The most popular paperback books sold at the drugstore or supermarket come in at the seventh grade level. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that when trying to reach the broadest population possible for disaster warnings and related messages, the writing should be at the fourth grade level.
At a recent Observer meeting, I asked if there was a target reading level for articles we publish. There is not. We have a wide variety of writers but also have a great group of editors and proofreaders to try to minimize mistakes in facts, language and grammar.
A look at ten articles from last month’s Observer showed the writing was from the seventh grade level to the second year of college level, with an average readability level of a senior in high school.
Want to learn more about readability? – start with the information on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Readability
If you use Microsoft Word, the section for spell checking and grammar includes an option to turn on readability calculations.
By the way, this editorial came out at the ninth grade level. What readability level should the Observer aim for?