Of course you’re familiar with Microsoft Word. And of course you’ve seen those wavy red and green lines in your drafts—those lines that remind us to check spelling and sentence structure. You, me, and every 4th grader on the planet use Microsoft Word in a thousand different ways every day!
But did you know that there are three other interesting little functions, hidden deeper in Microsoft Word, that COULD be the key to your blogging success? They could help you communicate your ideas to a larger group of readers, and make those readers more receptive to your blog posts.
Called “Readability Statistics,” these tools can help you gain insight into your writing on a deeper level.
Clear Out the Passive Sentences
FIRST is the check for passive sentences. The passive voice complicates the work of the reader, called decoding.
A passive sentence conveys the same information as an active sentence, but the details are murky, usually because the information is given out of logical order. To explain this further, ask yourself which sentence below you would prefer to read:
- The kangaroo carried her baby in her pouch. (active voice)
- The baby was carried by the kangaroo in her pouch. (passive voice)
If you had a slow-motion replay of your brain as it decoded the second sentence, it would be first thinking about the baby, then realizing this sentence isn’t completely about the baby. Then, it would ask, “who?” and then realize that the kangaroo is doing the action. Then, it would interrupt itself to use its short-term memory to remember what action is occurring. During the time it is remembering, it would not be able to process the end of the sentence, “in her pouch.” The eyes might continue to take in new content, but the brain won’t be able to commit this last fact to memory, as it is currently in use for other decoding functions. And so the detail could be lost.
Most importantly, the user could become fatigued with this content, and simply quit reading.
Clear Out the Complexity
The SECOND readability check is called the Flesch Reading Ease index, and it ranges from 0 to 100. A score of 100 indicates a 4th grade reading level. A score of 0 indicates a 12th grade reading level. Blockbuster novels have an average of a 7th grade reading level, so in the interest of making your blog a blockbuster, you are looking for a score in the low-to-mid-60s.
(Fun fact: The Affordable Care Act was written at the 13th grade level! Don’t see that on too many nightstands, do you?)
The score is based on the average sentence length and the average word length. Long sentences full of multi-syllabic words tend to be harder to decode than short sentences full of smaller words. You can respond to this red flag by choosing simpler, more direct words and re-structuring long sentences into smaller, more manageable lengths.
Worried that you would be dumbing down your material? Remember that it was genius of the Renaissance, Leonardo DaVinci, who spoke these words: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
The THIRD readability check is the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula. This function is very similar to the one explained above, but it takes out the added step of converting your numeric score to a grade level. The Flesch-Kincaid score relates to the number of years of school a person would need in order to clearly understand the material. The grade level of this blog, for example, is 7.6, which stands for the 7th year of school, with six months completed.
There are a few other readability tests, such as the Coleman-Liau and the Gunning-Fog, which you can read about here, but know that the various tests are based around these key structural elements:
- Average sentence length
- Number of different hard words
- Number of personal pronouns
- Percentage of unique words
- Number of prepositional phrases
As you become more mindful of the obstacles in your reader’s path, you will become more willing and able to remove them. You can then straighten the reader’s path to understanding — BEFORE sending that blog down the runway.
- Click here for info on Readability Tests in Word for Mac.
- Click here for info on Readability Tests in Word for PC.
- And here’s a similar browser-based tool.