Chapter 10. Edit for Readability

Readability refers to how easy or difficult your document is to read. You can measure and control readability with three editing techniques:

  • 10.1 Measure readability using the Gunning Fog Index.

  • 10.2 Replace long words with short words.

  • 10.3 Break long sentences.

You can measure readability with different algorithms: Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, Flesch Reading Ease, and Robert Gunning Fog Index. Most word processors have a feature that automatically calculates readability. All readability algorithms measure the same two variables: word length and sentence length. Short sentences and short words are easier to read, so they improve the readability score. These algorithms typically present the score as a school grade level such as the twelfth grade.

Complex subjects do not cause complex language. In fact, if you have a complex subject, your readers need you to keep the language simple. If you have an audience who knows little about the information, you might need to write a longer document, but you also need to use shorter sentences and shorter words. All readers, whether they know little or much, want an easy-to-read document. They resent difficult words that send them to the dictionary. You cannot control the complexity of your subject, but you can control readability.

Making your document easy to read is not dumbing down. On the contrary, making complex subjects easy to read is the hallmark of successful communication. Can Do Writing has a readability score ...

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