What are Reading Level Calculators?

When you're producing content for online readers, you don't just want to make sure that your content says everything you intend for it to. In addition to its value to your readers, your content must also be readable--that is, it must be written at a level that your readers can easily understand. The average online reader has the approximate reading level of an 8th grade student. While that seems easy enough to hit, people who write for a living or who spend a great deal of time working with and thinking in the language of their industry may mistakenly produce content that is difficult for the average online reader to understand. Luckily, that's where reading level calculators come in. 

What is a Reading Level Calculator?

A reading level calculator is a tool that uses a variety of elements to calculate the approximate reading level of a piece of writing. These elements can include:

  • The number of sentences in the piece
  • The number of words used in the piece as a whole
  • The number of syllables (usually calculated as an average based on the number of words)
  • The number of unusual words used in the content: industry standard words, unusual phrasing, and other words that will be unfamiliar to the average reader
  • The number of polysyllabic words used in the piece

The calculator then places those elements into their unique algorithm to come up with a readability score that describes how easy it is to understand the unique piece of writing. In some cases, URLs or files will be inserted into the tool. In that case, they collect the page at that URL or extract the text from the page or file, then score it according to their unique algorithm. 

score of 6 is the average reading level that most people look for when they're producing online content--the level that the average grade school student is able to handle. In the case of some higher-level materials, however, a higher score may be appropriate. 

What's the Best Tool for Scoring Readability?

There are plenty of tools on the market that will help determine how easy it is to read a specific piece of text. Many professionals believe that, due to the insignificant difference between the various tests, it's unnecessary to choose a specific one. Simply pick the calculator that's most convenient, they'll tell you, and you'll be able to calculate the approximate reading level of your content. In other cases, however, readability may vary widely based on the tool you've chosen to use. Choosing the right tool for your industry or need is critical to ensuring that you get an accurate readability score that will reflect the reading level you need for your content. 

Student accuracy: Students, in particular, need written content that is geared specifically toward their needs. When students read content that's written above their reading level, they may struggle to absorb the actual value of the content due to confusing language, words that they simply don't understand, or jargon words that they're unable to translate. In the case of student texts, assessing oral readability is almost as important as understanding the reading level of the content. This ensures that students will be able to accurately absorb and retain the information presented in the piece. The Dale Chall test is most commonly used to assess the reading level of student content.

Healthcare accuracy: When it comes to healthcare, it's vital that the average individual be able to understand the instructions they're give. Whether you're producing a healthcare site on the internet that offers the answers to a number of common questions or you're creating patient care instructions that are intended to go home with the patient following a procedure, you want to be sure that the information you're giving is easily understood. In some cases, however, healthcare information may need to include longer words (like medications) or jargon words (like treatments or exercises). Since these are words and phrases that should have been described to the patient during the initial treatment process, they're measured differently. In this case, the SMOG index performs with the highest level of accuracy

Financial disclosures: People are highly concerned with their finances, and when they receive information, they want to be sure they're able to read it! Not only that, inaccurate or unreadable information given to individuals with regard to their finances can lead to legal liability. In the case of financial information, the FOG test is most commonly used for analysis. 

What Do Reading Level Calculators Do?

Reading level calculators produce a quick, easy to read score that will allow you to assess the content you've created and determine whether or not it is appropriate for the average individual who will be reading it. Many calculators will also tell you why they assigned a specific score. Did you use too many long words? Is your average sentence too long? Do you try to cram paragraphs full of as much information as possible, rather than breaking them down into smaller segments that are easier for readers to scan? Reading level calculators can help you better assess the content you've created and ensure that you're able to create better understanding for your readers. 

If you've been writing away, producing content that you aren't sure whether or not your readers will understand, a reading level calculator is one of the best ways to assess your average readability. By adding that to your regular editing process, you can create clearer content that is of greater value to your readers.

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Dave Child

Dave is the founder of Readable.io, and has been building websites since the early 90s. He's one of those fortunate people who gets to do what he loves for a living.



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