What Difference Does Readability Make?

Niraj Sharma |
 05/18/11 |
3 min read

A wide range of individuals contribute to social media, and they write in a wide range of styles. Does it matter how hard or easy it is to understand what they write? You can easily score the readability of online text, but how is that information useful? Would you do searches based on a readability level? Categorize posts according to level? Filter results based on level? Write corporate or marketing communications with specific scores for specific audiences?

Measuring Readability

First you need to score the readability of online text. A widely accepted way to do that is via the Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula. You can learn all about it here.

A convenient way to calculate readability of a passage using the Flesch test is to use tools built into Microsoft Word. Go to Tools>Spelling and Grammar. Click the “Check grammar” box at the bottom left of the dialog box. After Word checks spelling and grammar, it will display a window with information that includes the document’s Flesch Reading Ease score.

You can also download a free, very compact word processor that includes a tool for calculating readability here.

Are there other tools you’re using to determine readability?

Extremes of Readability

The Flesch Reading Ease formula rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Experts say that for most standard files, a score between 60 and 70 should be the goal.

To illustrate what easy-to-read text and hard-to-read text look like, here are three passages—one that scores 100 (extremely easy), one that scores 0 (extremely hard) and one that scores about in the middle.

First, the passage that scores 100—the highest level of readability. It’s from Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.

I am Sam

I am Sam

Sam I am

That Sam-I-am
That Sam-I-am!
I do not like
that Sam-I-am.

Do you like
green eggs and ham?

I do not like them,
I do not like
green eggs and ham.

Would you like them
Here or there?

I would not like them
here or there.
I would not like them
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
I do not like them,

Next, the passage that scores a 0—the lowest level of readability. It’s from a work by Judith Butler, a professor of rhetoric and comparative literature at the University of California.

“The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.”

Third, the passage that scores in the middle (66.5). It’s a couple of sound bites from a netnography of Samsung HDTVs. This score means the text is easily understandable by 13- to 15-year-old students.

But on the other hand, I can’t really blame him. He loves baseball, and it’s his time of the year because the playoffs have started and his team made it in, the Atlanta Braves. And to celebrate, as well as give himself a little gift (Little?), he went out and bought himself a brand new Samsung HDTV to watch the games on. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that when I get there and we get married, that li’l gift to himself will then be “our” gift, which means sharing and watching things other than all those sports.

Hello, For almost two year now I have been using my 50″ DLP Samsung ( HL-85086w) HDTV as my computers display. This works great for watching movies and playing games but there is a problem with my display that I have just been dealing with but I would love to know if there was a way to fix it. My TV’s natural display is 1280×720 but when I set that in Nvidia’s control panel (I am using a Geforce GTX/9800) it seems as though the image is zoomed in, or it could be thought of as the edges are cut off.

Samples from You and Implications

Do you have samples of social media posts that have very high or low scores? What can you infer from those scores? Education level or social class of the authors? How is that information useful? What else would you do, or could businesses do, with specifics on the readability of social media text?



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