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Readability scoring: Tools for accessible evaluation

By Somongkol Teng

One of the challenges I often face as an evaluator is ensuring that questions in my surveys and other instruments are clear and accessible to diverse audiences. There have been times when youth taking my survey have come back to me looking confused because of the language in my questions. It's easy for adults to forget that what makes sense to us might not necessarily make sense to young people.

While there are different ways to tackle the problem, one of the tools I like to use is readability scoring.

What is readability scoring?

Readability scoring is a computer-calculated measure of how easy a piece of text is to read. The score identifies the educational level a reader would need to understand your text. The lower the educational level needed, the easier your text is to understand.

Below are the top three free readability scoring tools you should check out.

Microsoft Word

Readability statisticsDid you know Microsoft Word can assess reading level for you? It’s super simple! All you have to do is go to File → Options → Proofing. Under “When correcting grammar and spelling”, check “Show readability statistics”, and then click OK. Now, whenever you run your spell check, you’ll see your text’s readability statistics, which include the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid grade level.
  • Flesch Reading Ease: This measures the ease of reading and ranges from a score of 0 to 100, with a higher score indicating greater ease of reading. 
  • The Flesch-Kincaid grade level can be interpreted just like a K-12 reading level. For example, with a score of 9.8, this blog post should be easily understood by an average 9th grader.

Hemingway app

The Hemingway app is another of my favorite readability testing tools that’s also free and easy to use. It not only analyzes your text’s readability score but also highlights grammar and sentence structure problems. All you have to do is type or copy and paste your text into the editor box, and bam, your results (as shown below) will appear for you.

Hemingway app

This tool has the same readability indices as the previous tools and also highlights areas in your text where you can improve your readability score. But what I really love about it is the fact that it also analyzes the tone (formal to conversational) and sentiment (negative to positive) of your text. The basic edition is free.

Even so…

It’s important to note that “readability” is different than “understandability.” Readability scoring is just a tool for measuring your writing’s readability level, and a good starting point for more readable and accessible writing. It does not by any means replace the need for you to run your survey questions or text past a sample of your target audience. This is even more important when your target audience is youth. In a nutshell, use it wisely!

-- Somongkol Teng, Extension educator

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  1. Thanks for sharing the resources, Mongkol! I 100% agree with your comment to still make sure to test the items with your users. It's amazing how good youth are at spotting what won't make sense.

    1. Thank you, Sam! Readability testing is a good starting point, but computers aren't human. Pilot testing your instruments is always necessary.

  2. Thanks Mongkol! I love Hemingway app and now have 2 others to discover! I have also read the target reading level for the average adult reader should be 8th grade, which can be challenging when we are used to writing academically! Thanks for new tools and the reminder to test with your audience. I totally agree!

    1. Thank you, Ann. Glad to hear you've been using Hemingway too. Such a great tool, isn't it? :) Hope you're safe and well.


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