January 11, 2010


One of the things I love about getting together with other writers is the tips and tricks we share. At a recent SCBWI meeting*, I learned about an application in Microsoft Word that scores the readability of your writing.

How cool is that? And it’s so simple. When you run a Spelling and Grammar check, click on Options> Grammar>Readability Statistics. When the spell-check is done, you’ll see a balloon with word counts, averages, and readability numbers. It even counts passive sentences!

Just for fun, I ran this blog post. Grade level = 6.3; Flesch Reading Ease = 70.1 (higher scores mean easier reading). Next, I put the first chapter of my book through the application and came out with a grade level of 3.6 and reading ease of 84.5. Are those good scores for a fantasy?

Well, the good folks at Amazon have provided the means to compare our works with some of the greats. Just find the book, scroll down to “Inside This Book” and click on Text Stats. Same thing, different format.

I looked up “The Changeling Sea”, one of my favorite books by Patricia McKilip. The results? A 4.5 grade level and 81.4 readability score. “The Arkadians” by Lloyd Alexander checks in with 5.7 and 73.3. So it looks like my book is easier to read and requires less education. Hmmmm. I wonder if that’s because I spent so many years working with struggling readers.

Unfortunately, this feature isn’t available for most new books – and, surprisingly, none of the Harry Potter books has it - but there’s bound to be something in your genre that will work.

Give it a try. What did you learn about your writing?

*Thank you, Rahma!


  1. This is a really cool tip! I just tested my lasted blog entry and it had a 77.7 score for readability and a fifth grader can understand it. Is my writing too simple???

  2. Awesome! I've never heard of this before. The over-analytical part of myself can't wait to try this out.

    *grin* I love Patricia McKillip's books! She is just amazing!

  3. Thanks for the tip. Clockwise comes in with a readability level of 87.1% and a grade level of 3.2. hummmm? Should I be concerned?

  4. How cool! I'd never heard of this. I'll have to try it out :)

  5. As a point of reference, I used this tool when drafting correspondence for mass mailings. The rule was to keep all correspondence around the 6th grade level for the general [adult] public.

  6. Stephanie: Not at all. Did you check your score against any of your favorite books? Yeah, I know, kind of like comparing apples and oranges, but you might be surprised.

    Danyelle: Somehow I knew you were a McKilip fan. *wink* Be sure to come back and tell me what you learned about your writing!

    Elle: I haven't run my whole book through yet, but if I were concerned I'd look up some published books similar to mine, compare scores, and then pick apart those books to get a sense of what might be leading to a higher grade level. Could be illuminating!

    Sherrie: It's only one tool of many, but I like it! Be sure to share your scores!

  7. VR: Looks like you posted your comment while I was writing mine. :)

    Thanks for sharing the general point of reference. Did you try scoring any of your prose?

  8. Thanks for posting this from our SCBWI meeting. It's a fun tool isn't it? If it wasn't after midnight, I'd re-check my ms, but my blog entries check in at 6th grade.

    I like the idea of checking my favorite books from the stats on Amazon. As for struggling readers, there's a lot of them out there, so it's probably a good thing to keep in mind.

  9. I checked my last manuscript. The average was a 4.6 grade level/77.7 reading ease overall. But I also checked a few chapters individually and they varied widely, ranging from 2.5 grade level/ 91.4 reading ease to a grade level of 12/ 47.8 reading ease (a chapter where the characters talk about thelemic philosophy - lots of unusual words but not difficult to understand). Not sure how to interpret the disparate scores.

  10. How fun! I checked my current manuscript and got a 4.7 grade level (which is good I think because it is MG) and a reading ease of 83.5. It actually makes me wonder if it's too challenging? What a great tool. Thanks Kathryn.

  11. Does this work for Word 2007? The options menu is different.

  12. Rahma: As you can see, it's a great tip!

    VR: What an interesting range of scores. Are you happy with the average?

    Natalie: Not at all. The higher the reading ease score, the easier it is to read. (I know, it's backwards, who is this Flesch guy anyway?) Reader's Digest scores at 65, Time at 52, and the Harvard Law Review at 32. So I think 83.5 is a terrific score for a MG work!

    Icy: I have Microsoft Office Word X for Mac.
    Sounds like you have an older PC version of Word. Try searching HELP for "readability". If you've got the feature, it should show up in the index. Good luck!

  13. I did this the first time I wrote a book (the book under the bed) and I think it came out somewhere around a fifth grade reading level, which appalled me because I write adult fiction.

    It's fascinating... more important for MG and YA authors I think than adults. At least, I hope so! :)

  14. THAT is fascinating. I had no idea. I'm so gonna do that.

  15. Heidi: Sadly, fiction can be considered "adult" if it scores at a 6th-grade level. (As a former teacher, it truly pains me to acknowledge this.)
    It would be interesting to compare your writing with similar authors on Amazon.

    Shelby: Welcome! Hope you find it useful.

  16. I thought I knew everything about Word (I even have the expert test certificate from Microsoft) but I never knew about this feature!! Thanks **SO** much for sharing this awesome tidbit!

  17. MeganRebekah: You're welcome. Happy to pass it along.


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