Louise's eLearning Blog

Using Google Docs to improve readability

Posted on: February 16, 2010

While checking how long a document I had written was I stumbled upon another great feature of Google Docs that can help identify when a document may not be as accessible as it could be.

The Word Count (Tools: Word Count) function not only shows the number of words and characters in the document it also includes information / statistics from a selection of different readability scales.

Google Docs Word Count Screen

The document the screen grab is from is one of my own blog posts, which would not be very accessible for readers with lower literacy levels – but where should individuals be aiming? Should the content sometimes dictate the audience and their ‘assumed’ ability? Do I naturally write at the level my own education has reached – and is that therefore a problem if I need my documents to be easily digestible by a variety of people?

Flesch–Kincaid readability test – From Wikipedia

Scores can be interpreted as shown in the table below.*

Score Notes
90.0–100.0 easily understandable by an average 11-year-old student
60.0–70.0 easily understandable by 13- to 15-year-old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by university graduates

Reader’s Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, an average year 7 student’s (eleven years old) written assignment has a readability test of 60-70 (and a reading grade level of 6-7) and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s. The highest (easiest) readability score possible is around 120 (e.g. every sentence consisting of only two one-syllable words); there is no theoretical lower bound on the score

* The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula

Therefore by using the numbers proactively it is possible to make a document more readable. For example by shortening sentences and using simpler terminology, readers with a lower reading age will find the document more accessible to them.

So next time you are creating a document why not see how readable it is – even if you don’t need to know how many words it has got!


2 Responses to "Using Google Docs to improve readability"

After reading you site, Your site is very useful for me .I bookmarked your site!

Wow what a fantastic feature. I will make that a key part of my work now and try to spread the word.

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