If it's too hard to read, it's wasted

The best-written text in the world will fail to serve its purpose if the reading level is too high for the intended readers.

When writing, consider your subject matter and target audience. For Tips on how to make your text more readable, visit the Clear Language and Design site. It includes an on-line thesaurus to find simpler options for big words.

Appropriateness of subject matter and audience reading level

  • Grade 5 to 6: essential information for a diverse public, including people whose first language is not English and/or people with less than 8 years of formal education.
  • Grade 7 to 9: information for the general public that introduces new terms and concepts or specialized subject matter
  • Grade 10 to 15: specialized information intended for an informed audience

Source: East End Literacy Group, Toronto

Assess readability

The easiest method is using the Microsoft Word's readability checker.

  • Open the Tools menu
  • Choose Options (Preferences on a Mac)
  • Click the Spelling and Grammar tab
  • Check "Show Readability Statistics"
  • Run the spelling/grammar check. Review the grade level results.

Readability in Spanish

A readability level of grade 3 to 6 is recommended for Spanish-language materials for the general Spanish-speaking populace. Unfortunately, Word's readability feature does not work for Spanish.

Assess readability in Spanish

  • Print the Fry Readability Graph
  • Randomly select three 100-word passages from your document
  • Count the number of syllables in each passage
    • Find the average of the three passages
    • Subtract 67 to adjust for Spanish
  • Count the number of sentences in each passage
    • Find the average of the three passages
  • Plot the average number of syllables and sentences per 100-word passage on the graph. Sentences are on the vertical axis, and syllables are on the horizontal axis.

Learn more about the Fry Readability Graph.