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What’s a Reading Ease Score?

…And why is it so important for your blog and your website?

The idea of a reading ease score is very simple – it’s a numerical value, showing how easy your writing is to read. The one I use – and the one that’s probably most commonly used is the Flesch Reading Ease test.

It gives every piece of writing a score between 0 and 120: the higher the score, the easier it is to read. An article in the Harvard Law Review would generally score in the low thirties: ‘the cat sat on the mat’ should come in around 100.

In the UK, you’d expect the Times to be around 45-50, the Mail to score around 60 and the Sun around 65.

(But don’t automatically assume that the lower the score the better the writing. Very often the reverse is true. As Nathaniel Hawthorne famously said, ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing.’)

So it’s a simple formula – and it’s easy to set up as well. In my beloved Word 2003 it used to be in tools – options – spelling and grammar and you’d click the box for ‘show readability statistics.’ Then you’d spellcheck your work and the reading ease score would come up.

Sadly, Microsoft have joined the dark side and I’m being forced to use the 2010 and 2013 versions: but whatever you’re using, simply put ‘show readability statistics’ into Google and there be any number of ‘how-to’ guides pop up.

Why is the Reading Ease score so important if you’re writing a blog?

Anyone who’s heard me speak on blogging knows that the one thing I stress above all other is consistency. That’s consistency of quality, delivery, content, voice and tone. Checking your reading ease score goes a long towards guaranteeing that you deliver what your readers are expecting – and that is crucially important.

Let me explain. If I’m writing for clients in the financial services industry I’m aiming for a RE score of around 45-50. That will give the article or the blog the authoritative and experienced tone that the eventual readers will expect – and respond to.

The blog I write for my business coach/management consultant client will be around 60-70. It’s written in a much more conversational tone, so the sentences are shorter (which increases the RE score).

My own blog scores 80-90. Why so highly? Because there’s a lot of conversation, which inevitably leads to short sentences. And simply, that’s the style I write it in. I’m aiming to give readers five minutes’ amusement in the middle of a busy day: I’m not trying to explain the Greek debt crisis.

Why is the Reading Ease score important for your website?

…Because it guarantees your website is readable.

A large firm of solicitors once asked me to look at the copy on their website. I checked the reading ease score of their Home page. It was 17 – at the time, the lowest score I’d ever come across. Unless you were a seriously well qualified solicitor the page was incomprehensible. The page that was supposedly attracting clients was driving them away.

However well qualified you are, however rarefied the service you provide, your website has to be easy to read. As I say every time I speak about this, you write what people want to read – and yes, you can do it without ‘dumbing down.’

If you want to make your writing easier to read, shorten the sentences and use shorter words. One caveat though: the quality of your writing still needs to be high. Bad writing doesn’t suddenly become worth reading just because you’ve followed the modern internet trend of one line paragraphs and one word sentences.

Reading Ease scores and their importance will be covered in much more detail in the ‘blogging for business’ book I’ll be publishing later this year. If you’d like to be kept up to date on its progress – and receive the occasional sample chapter – then just contact me and I’ll add you to the e-mail list.

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