Take Our Quick Test: It’ll Tell You Nothing

Instead of writing — or even editing today — I got distracted online. You know what this is all about. You intend to “quick look something up” and end up clicking and linking. The next thing you know, an hour has passed.

I admit it: I clicked and linked for far too long today. One of the links lead to a tool called a “readability calculator.” I wanted to see if my sentences are too long to be clear.

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This self-assessment came from this paraphrased information:

According to research by the American Press Institute, when the average sentence length was fewer than eight (8) words, readers understood 100% of the sentence. At fourteen (14) words, readers could still comprehend more than 90% of the information. But 43-word sentences are only 10% comprehended.

Clearly, if a writer wants to play the numbers, then “short and sweet.”

I cut 600 words from My Plus One and put it into the readability calculator. (The one I used took the average of six different calculators.) The result for writing sample #1: 10th-grade reading level. (MPO is my 3rd novel.)

Presuming I write “smarter” now than a year ago, I took 600 words from Accidental Gravitas and popped those into the readability calculator. The result for writing sample #2: 6th-grade reading level.

I played with the calculator for a while. It was both fun and meaningless.

I had every expectation that my “grade level” would have gone up. Wouldn’t you? But why presume that? Is that the goal? To be writing at “college-level”?

When I read, I don’t want to feel challenged — or even stupid. I like to fully comprehend what I read, so it seems that’s what I tend to write.

And frankly, who wants to read highfalutin, dense, and esoteric prose?

Probably someone; not me.

P.S. What you just read scored at the 8th-grade level.

13 thoughts on “Take Our Quick Test: It’ll Tell You Nothing

  1. It seems to me that you did actually improve if you went from 10th grade to 6th grade. You’ve improved the readability of the text for the reader. I read /heard somewhere (probably a workshop I did for label writing when I was doing museum education) that the Boston Herald is 5th grade, the Boston Globe, 8th grade. Your best bet is to not go higher than 8th grade if you want to reach the most readers, and yet not compromise on quality. You’re right, high-fallutin is no good…

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    1. I get that idea. But there is a tiny aching shred of me that believes that the higher the level, the “better” the writing. To not write at one’s education level seems to be a failure, in some skewed notion of “success.”

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    1. It’s so interesting that you both see this phenomenon of reading comprehension resulting from sentences of reasonable length or the use of common vocabulary as something negative. I feel very strongly that writing, as with any art, should be a reflection of life. Writing the way we speak and think. It’s an idea that is appealing to me, and a sign of quality in my estimation. I’m currently reading “Watership Down” to my children at bedtime, and in chapter four we came across a sentence describing a time of day that was 189 words in length! A sentence littered with commas, hyphens, parentheses and colons. I much prefer periods myself. It was more of a paragraph really. Beautiful writing, yes, but would be just as beautiful and better quality were it edited to be more readable and comprehensible. We read a lot of books together with vocabulary that is unknown because the words are from another time or culture – Tolkien comes to mind. However, why shouldn’t contemporary works be written in a way that imitates the real way contemporary people think and speak?

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      1. Agreed.

        (And I moved one of your matching comments to the “trash” and still it persists to exist. Perhaps it is undeletable.)

        I deleted all the text as a solution. It’s just a “blank” comment now.

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      2. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, and I appreciate a simply told tale. My own writing tends to be pretty straightforward. I guess as a reader and writer, I just bristle at the notion that people complain at being challenged a little in their reading, to take the opportunity to learn new words, or appreciate a lovely (if lengthy) metaphor. At the same time, I’m not chomping at the bit to read Ulysses, either. It’s personal preference, I guess. I think writers should write in their own style and voice and not worry about “levels”. Unless you are writing for children, in which it’s very important. It all depends on your audience.

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  2. I think they need to change the reference to “grade levels” — because that seems to skew how we interpret the scores — the lower the grade level, the less educated it seems…even if that is simply a reflection of “ease of readability”. Personally, I think you can tell the difference between an author…and a template writer (like people who write 100’s of novels for mass consumption). It’s not always easy to express complex thoughts and profound emotions…at an 8th grade level of readability. I like [well-constructed] long sentences that stimulate my thought process and convey something that can only be explained…in a long sentence. And an author, with a real story to tell, probably needs some complexity in what they tell us and how they tell us. (PS: Yes, I’m addicted to ellipses…I don’t know why.)

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  3. Hey Jenna, Neat post. I need to check this out. I just got a rejection for being ‘too literary’ for a middle grade novel, though they were impressed with the writing itself. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way, write for the reader, not for yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

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