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> I've been asked to ensure that our user docs are written on a 10th grade
> level so that they are understandable to a wide audience. If you've had to
> do this, how do you measure this?
> I searched the archives and the web and found references to the Gunning Fog
> Index and the Flesch Readability Index, but I couldn't determine if these
> enforce a grade level standard (plus, if they're dated, and with the decline
> of literacy...)
> Has anyone used an index or standard for this? No mil specs, please. Is
> there any software that does this?
> Michael Collier
>mailto:mcollier -at- cnalife -dot- com
As a former college instructor of reading, writing, and study skills;
the former director of a college learning resources center; and a former
writer of reading skills booklets and test passages for
state-administered reading competency tests (to stringent grade level
specifications), I must tell you that the 10th grade level you plan to
use as a standard for your docs is quite high for the "average" reader.
Most of the teenage students and adults returning to education with whom
I worked read at about the 6th or 7th grade level -- and many read at
levels much lower! (Yes, these were students who had graduated US high
schools -- some with excellent grades -- and were now attending
I don't know what kind of "user docs" you're working on, but I would
strongly recommend that you write them with lower expectations of your
user population, since technical information -- even at the 7th or 8th
grade level -- can be difficult for many end-users to comprehend. (And
if your end-users don't understand your docs, you end up generating far
more tech support calls.)
Back to readability... There are many formulae for determining
readability -- some of which are quite complex, use graded word lists,
and are considered far more accurate than a quick multiplication of the
polysyllabic word count.
However, for your purposes, so as not to become bogged down with the
different theories and formulae, I would suggest you use the
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level statistics in Microsoft Word.
In Word '97:
* Go to the Tools menu and click Options
* Click the Spelling & Grammar tab
In the Grammar section,
* Click to select "Check grammar with spelling"
* Click to select "Show readability statistics"
(You must have "Check grammar with spelling" selected
to obtain a readability score)
* You can also choose a "Writing Style," for example, Standard or
* Click OK
When you spell check a document you will be presented with a series of
readability statistics -- counts of words, characters, paragraphs;
average numbers of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence; number
of passive sentences, a Flesch Reading Ease score, and a Flesch-Kincaid
Grade Level. This last item -- the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level -- is the
number you are looking for.