Use Readability Tests to Check Your Report Writing Health
Evaluate the readability of your report writing regularly. Overly simple report writing may put off your reader and fail to convey the necessary information, while overly complex information can confuse the reader. You must write your business reports so clearly that 100 percent of the readers understand 100 percent of your business reports 100 percent of the time. The average businessperson comprehends at the 9th to 10th grade level. The average American adult comprehends at the 8th to 9th grade level. More than 20 percent of average adults read at or below the 5th grade level. Report writing that has the complexity a high school graduate or college student might understand may not be understood by your reader.
In addition, many businesspeople are “scanners.” They breeze through reports without reading them thoroughly. If they miss something, they simply keep on going without fully understanding what they read. As a result, they end up with miscommunications and mistakes.
Standard business writing is normally written at a 10th grade level. That does not mean the writer is talking down to readers who have college degrees. It means only that anyone who can read at the 10th grade level could understand reports written at the 10th grade level, including PhDs. It is a safe level because it is readable by all readers who read at a 10th grade level or above.
Evaluate your report writing regularly to ensure you’re writing at a level your readers will understand. Adjust your report writing so you write differently for readers who likely are at different levels of writing comprehension. Microsoft Word’s readability analyses will allow you to evaluate your report writing readability easily. This article explains how you can evaluate the readability of your report writing.
Evaluate the difficulty or grade-level of the report writing by looking at the vocabulary and sentence length. If the vocabulary is simple and sentence length is generally shorter, then the report writing is probably at a lower grade level. It will communicate to a wider range of readers. If the vocabulary is more difficult, with many syllables, and the report writing includes some long, complex sentences, then it is probably written at a higher grade level: you may lose average readers. When in doubt, keep your report writing at the simple level.
In this report writing that is so clear it cannot be misunderstood, you should write at the 10th grade level or lower for general audiences. Choose the grade level for more sophisticated or technical readers based on your understanding of their experience and knowledge.
You could apply one of the readability formulas available in Microsoft Word to find out what the approximate grade level is for any report writing, including your own.
Writers talk about the complexity or “difficulty” of their report writing in terms of grade level. A report written at the 10th grade level could probably be understood by a person reading at the 10th grade level. You can measure the approximate grade level of your own or others’ report writing by applying one of the readability formulas. The formulas evaluate the number of syllables in the words, number of words in sentences, and difficulty levels of the words.
Microsoft Word includes the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Index. Use it each time you complete a report. Follow this procedure to turn it on:
Set Word to Check Readability
Follow this procedure to set Word to check your report writing readability.
- Click on “Tools” on the Microsoft Word pulldown menu.
- Click on “Options.”
- Click on the “Spelling & Grammar” tab.
- Click on “Check grammar with spelling.”
- Click on “Show readability statistics.”
- Click on “OK” to accept the changes.
When you are ready to check the readability of your report writing, open your document in Microsoft Word and select “Tools” from the menu at the top of the screen. A pulldown menu will appear. Select the “Spelling & Grammar” option. The system will check your report writing and provide a summary of the words and sentences, including the Flesch-Kincaid Index rating.
When you are ready to check the readability of your report writing, open your report in Microsoft Word and select “Review” from the menu at the top of the screen. Click on the “Spelling & Grammar” option. The system will check your report writing and provide a summary of the words and sentences, including the Flesch-Kincaid Index rating.
It will show two scores: The Flesch Reading Ease score and The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score.
The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Test
These are the characteristics of the report the Flesch Reading Ease test uses to evaluate your report writing readability:
- Average Sentence Length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences)
- Average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)
The result of the analysis is a number ranging from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the easier the report is to read.
- Scores between 80 and 100 are considered easily understandable by an average 5th grader.
- Scores between 60 and 79.0 are considered easily understood by nearly all business readers.
- Scores between 31 and 59 are considered readable by business readers with very good writing comprehension, but not business readers with poor reading comprehension. Some business readers will have difficulty.
- Scores between 0 and 30 are considered understandable only by college graduates or people with advanced degrees.
The best report writing should contain shorter sentences and words. The score between 60 and 70 is fine for the average business reader. The following table is also helpful to assess the ease of readability in a report for the average business reader:
90-100 : Very Easy
80-89 : Easy
70-79 : Fairly Easy
60-69 : Standard
50-59 : Fairly Difficult
30-49 : Difficult
0-29 : Very Difficult
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score
This score provides an approximate school level for a reader to be able to understand the report writing easily. For example, a score of 8.0 means that an eighth grader might be able to understand the report writing easily. Most business documents should be aimed at 7.0 to 10.0. Technical documents written for a technical audience will have a higher grade level.