Should You Care About Readability Tests?

Do you use WordPress for blogging?  Then you may recognize the “Flesch-Kincaid Readability Score” in its critique of your content.   

The platform gives both a percentage and a critique.  Sometimes, it may find  your content is “hard to read.”   There may be suggestions, too: things like too much use of passive voice, for instance. 

Word Press Readability Critique

So, does your post content need more work?  Maybe yes; maybe, no. 

The WordPress critique also gives two thumbs up if your post is a mere 300 words long.  For many blogs (especially those focusing on legal topics) 300 words is not enough to get the job done. 

So my first point is to take the WordPress editor with a big fat grain of salt.  It’s not all one size fits all out there. 

The goal is to do what’s right for your reader.   Be smart.  Be savvy. 

How Readability Tests Work

This is not to say that I don’t like the idea of a readability test.  After all, its purpose is to help you connect with your readers by insuring your writing corresponds to their reading level.   

How?  Like a magician, the readability test throws several things into its top hat before pulling out its white rabbit: things like how often you use passive voice, the complexity of your sentences, the length of your paragraphs, and if you use adverbs. 

Cut and paste your content into their tool (which automatically happens in WordPress), and voila! You have a readability score. 

The Writer discusses readability tests and reports that 65 is a good score on Flesch-Kincaid for “business writing.”  And it points out that the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test is one tool; there are others, as well. 

In fact, RavenTools has compiled a list on its blog described as the “ultimate list of online content readability tests.”  If you’re curious, then go check out their collection. 

It’s All about Your Reader

Here’s my second point.  It’s not about the readability score as much as it is about the writer understanding his or her reader. 

If you are writing a legal blog discussing new SCOTUS opinions, where your readers are fellow lawyers and legal scholars, then your writing will score differently than if you are writing a blog explaining a new SCOTUS opinion to the general public.   (Wow, look at that long sentence!)

You aren’t writing for yourself.  You’re writing to convey a message.  If a readability test helps you to visualize and understand your reader better, then that is the best reason to use it.  IMHO.

Have Some Fun with It

Oh, and one last thing.  Have some fun with these readability tests. Go grab some of your favorite writing and plug it into the thing. 

Say, throw some David Foster Wallace into your WordPress blog platform.  What pops up in the critique?  

Or try Ernest Hemingway, Nora Ephron, Truman Capote, or James Baldwin.   See how they score (and think about their intended readers).