PSLs and Associates: how to score your readability

Now you know what readability is and what the Readability Stats on your screen look like… how do you access them?

To score your readability, follow two steps: 1) activate the stats; 2) run the Spelling & Grammar check. Let’s deal briefly with step 1 in Microsoft® and Apple.

Activating the readability stats in Microsoft® Word

Click on ‘File’ in the toolbar, ‘Options’ in the left-hand column, then on ‘Proofing’. The dialogue box that appears looks like this:

readability-score-activate-readability-stats-pc

 

Towards the bottom, under the heading ‘When correcting spelling and grammar in Word’, are two options: ‘Check grammar with spelling’, and ‘Show readability statistics’, which is greyed out. To activate the stats, tick/check the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ option. The ‘Show readability statistics’ option below it should then automatically be ticked/checked; if not, do it manually.

Make sure as well that the drop-down box alongside ‘Writing Style’ says ‘Grammar & Style’ (as above), and not ‘Grammar only’.

Activating the readability stats in Microsoft® Word for Mac 2011

In the toolbar under ‘Word’, go into ‘Preferences’: under ‘Authoring and Proofing Tools’, click on ‘Spelling and Grammar’. You should then see this screen:

readability-score-activate-readability-stats-mac

Tick/check the box marked ‘Show readability statistics’ and make sure that the ‘Writing style’ drop-down box says ‘Standard’ or ‘Grammar & Refinements’. Click ‘OK’ and you’ve activated the stats.

How to score your readability in the above programs

Place the cursor at the start of your body copy or highlight the text you want to score. Run the Spelling & Grammar check (‘Tools’, in the toolbar), accepting or rejecting the options as you wish (click on ‘Ignore’, ‘Ignore all’ or ‘Ignore rule’ to get through them quickly). At the end of the S & G check, a dialogue box asks if you wish to check the remainder of the document – click ‘No’ and the readability stats appear.

Trouble-shooting problems in the readability stats feature

If you get odd scores (0% readability doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer!), it may be because…

… your document has lots of graphs, graphics or bullets (the stats work best on body copy/narrative text, i.e. prose of complete, punctuated sentences);

… your word count is too low: the stats struggle with text of fewer than 200 words;

… when you activated the stats in the dialogue box shown above, if you’re on a PC you should have opted for ‘Grammar & Style’ in the ‘Writing Style’ drop-down box, rather than ‘Grammar only’ (otherwise the ‘Show readability statistics’ option may be greyed out).

Word of warning: the stats work best on fully punctuated body copy of at least 200 words; they don’t work well on titles, headlines, subheadings, bullet points and captions. If your document has lots of these, save it as a text-only file and run the stats on that for a truer score.

If you struggle accessing the Stats, ping me an email: scott@writeforresults.com.

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

When I show people on my training courses how to use these readability stats, they run around like frisky puppies editing their work to edge their FRE score over the magic 60% plain English line and beat their colleagues. I like to see healthy competition, but don’t let your new-found toy blind you to its limits. The stats only tell you what’s going on in your writing mechanically; they don’t assess the quality of your content.

You could be writing complete rubbish; you’ll only know it’s readable rubbish!

What I want to cultivate in you, rather, is your writerly judgment, your ability to assess your own writing. If you’re happy with what you’ve written and reckon it hits the spot as far as your reader goes, then whether it scores 59% or 61% is immaterial.

The bottom-line

Get into the habit of scoring your readability, to track how your writing is improving. And show your colleagues how to do it!

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If you’d like to go to the heart of the matter and download three chapters of my book, rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques, here’s the link: Download rhetorica® Chapters

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Scott Keyser runs Write for Results, a communications and business development consultancy. Write for Results works with professionals who perform technically complex work (eg lawyers, accountants, engineers), but who sometimes struggle to communicate the value of that work to their market in an engaging way. Scott and his team simply show them how to make their comms — including their bids, tenders, pitches and proposals — clear, concise and compelling.

To book a slot to speak to Scott about your or your team’s writing, click here: http://bit.ly/2f5o6di