The Flesch-Kincaid scale. Hands up, my writerly friends, if you’ve never heard of it. And don’t sweat it if you haven’t; I hadn’t either until a few months ago when it was discussed in one of the many copywriting groups I stalk on Facebook.
I’ve since spoken to a couple of fellow content creators who hadn’t heard of it either so, generous soul that I am, I’m going to give you a quick overview so you can start using it to improve your writing, today.
So, what is the Flesch-Kincaid scale?
It’s essentially a readability calculator, based on some complicated mathematical shenanigans that go way over my head. All I need to know, and all you need to know, is that it can grade your writing, letting you know whether you’ve hit the right level of readability for your intended audience.
Where do I find the F-K scale?
If you’re creating a word document, it’s easy to set up the F-K grading. Open your Spelling and Grammar checker, click on ‘options’ and enable the ‘show readability statistics’ option. Now, after you’ve worked your way through your spelling and grammar check, you’ll be presented with your document’s readability stats. At the top, you’ll see your word count and the number of paragraphs and sentences in your document. Right at the bottom of the box, you’ll find your Flesch-Kincaid grade level.
How does it grade your writing?
As I say, there are all sorts of equations going on in the background as your grading level is calculated, but here are some of the main things to think about:
The number of sentences in your paragraphs.
For an improved readability score you want to avoid filling your writing with excessively long paragraphs. Never-ending chunks of text are hard to read and do tend to put people off. Generally speaking, it’s best to stick to two or three sentences per paragraph.
The number of words in your sentences.
Rambling sentences can work but more often than not, the longer the sentence, the higher the risk that you’ll lose clarity. For a clearer message, try to keep your sentences a bit shorter — around 20 words per sentence tends to be about right. That said, if you don’t want your readers to fall asleep halfway through your post, it’s a good idea to vary the lengths of your sentences.
The number of passive sentences.
I’m going to save a big discussion of passive and active voices for another day but here’s a quick example:
“I read the book” is the active voice.
“The book was read by me” is the passive voice.
There are times when the passive voice is the right way to go but generally, you want to avoid having too many passive sentences in your writing.
(As ever, Grammar Girl is the go-to site for these linguistic debates and here’s her take on the passive voice: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/active-voice-versus-passive-voice)
What grade should you aim for?
If I had a pound for every time I answered a content-related question with this response…
It depends on your audience.
I primarily write for Joe Average — my clients employ me to write clear, concise content, which will appeal to a wide range of people with different backgrounds and education. Even those who read at a high level prefer an easier read when they’re consuming blog posts in their lunch hour or surfing websites to find a new accountant or designer.
With that in mind, I aim for a grading level of anywhere between 7.0 and 8.5. Anything lower is too minimal and could sound patronising or over-simplified. Anything above an 8.5 is straying into the territory of academic, medical or legal writing, which, most of the time, simply wouldn’t suit my intended audience.
There you have it, a quick rundown of the Flesch-Kincaid grading scale. Fellow writers, I’d love to know whether you’re already using this tool or whether you think you’ll try it after reading this. Leave me a comment to let me know how you get on.
(In case anyone is wondering, I scored a 7.7 for this post!)
Read some more super simple tips for improving your content here