Flesch-Kincaid “Ease” Of Reading

Yesterday, I was on about the cover art. Of course, the tale between the covers is far more important. After all, you can change a cover even after publication, whereas the book itself is “forever.”

Planned “Distances” cover.

I’m still working through the final proofing of Distances. As I am, it’s not only about keeping an eye out for errors and typos; it’s also about its language – carefully reviewing the text in detail to try to make sure it conveys the story in the style I want. I suppose it’s not unlike an artist’s having a last look at the painting and applying the final brush strokes.

Readability, “Distances” chapters 125-133

While writing the books, occasionally I run parts of the text through the Flesch-Kincaid readability check. That above is how chapters 125-133 in Distances “rate” overall in reading terms according to that test. Flesch-Kincaid has become so commonplace that it’s now even available in Microsoft Word when you do a combined spelling and grammar check.

To explain what those numbers mean, the last two lines are the most “important.” Wikipedia tells us they sum up a text’s reading “ease” and its U.S. school grade level:

90.0–100.0 easily understood by an average 11-year-old student
60.0–70.0 easily understood by 13- to 15-year-old students
0.0–30.0 best understood by university graduates

So those Distances chapters are relatively “easy” to read – between 3rd and 4th grade.

Where did Flesch-Kincaid come from? Wikipedia also notes:

The “Flesch–Kincaid” (F–K) reading grade level was developed under contract to the US Navy in 1975 by J. Peter Kincaid and his team. Related UN Navy research directed by Kincaid delved into high-tech education (for example, the electronic authoring and delivery of technical information); usefulness of the Flesch–Kincaid readability formula; computer aids for editing tests; illustrated formats to teach procedures; and the Computer Readability Editing System (CRES).

Based on Flesch-Kincaid, we learn U.S. presidential aspirant Donald Trump tends to speak at a “3rd grade” level. Politico explains:

Flattening the English language whenever he speaks without a script, Trump relies heavily on words such as “very” and “great,” and the pronouns “we” and “I,” which is his favorite word. As any news observer can observe, he lives to diminish his foes by calling them “losers,” “total losers,” “haters,” “dumb,” “idiots,” “morons,” “stupid,” “dummy” and “disgusting.”

Well, I wouldn’t hire him. 😉 But it’s easy to poke fun at Mr. Trump. When ordinary words fill your conversation, your language is by definition bound to be simpler when compared to how you would speak when tackling more complicated subjects.

As for writing, which is what Flesch-Kincaid is about. Particularly if you, as I do, pen lots of conversation involving non-native English speakers who may at times speak more “simply,” and with English speakers in turn speaking more “simply” to them in response, words and sentences will naturally have to be “simpler.” It’s realistic and therefore unavoidable. For instance, here’s part of a scene in Frontiers:

Excerpt from
Excerpt from “Frontiers,” on the iPad app for Kindle. Click to expand.

This is that scene put through Flesch-Kincaid all by itself:

The readability of a
The readability of a “Frontiers” scene, analysed by Flesch-Kincaid

Note the conversation there is a major part of the scene. And it is essentially “uncomplicated.” Therefore the scene overall “rates” as just under “5th grade.”

However, interestingly, if you delete the dialogue from it completely, this is what the test reveals:

The readability of that same
The readability of that same “Frontiers” scene, analysed by Flesch-Kincaid, but without dialogue.

With no conversation at all, it is suddenly just over a “7th grade” level – a more challenging read. (Why the first test did not reveal the “passive” sentences in the narrator is unclear to me. My narrator in all the novels is deliberately formal, without even contractions, to set it carefully apart from the dialogue.)

Free Stock Photo: Teenage girl reading a book on a park bench.
Free Stock Photo: Teenage girl reading a book on a park bench.

My novels seem to fall mostly between about 4th and 6th grade level, which is where many current authors seem to as well. Yet, as you also see, that level may vary widely even by passages.

At this University of South Florida page, you can have some fun and see where perhaps some of your, ahem, other favorite authors (after me, of course!) and books are on Flesch-Kincaid:

Screen capture of LIt2Go.
Screen capture of LIt2Go.

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.