Doing the Work

A Note on Readability Tests

A readability test uses a mathematical formula to measure reading ease. It is just one tool to evaluate writing, and it needs to be used along with all the other plain language tactics illustrated in the model document.

The chart below shows the improvement in the final version of the model document compared to the original.

Document version Number of words Flesch-Kincaid reading level Readability grade (
Original 2,365 16 D
Final 1,815 13 C

The final document is 23% shorter than the original, which by itself aids readability significantly. The other scores show that the document could be made more plain by using fewer technical terms, introducing more active voice, and editing even harder. Keep in mind, however, that readers are influenced by what they bring to the document: prior knowledge, education level, and motivation. What is plain to one audience may not be plain to another.

As well, as noted in the Introduction, plain language considerations must be balanced against the requirements of all stakeholders, which makes revising policy and procedures particularly challenging.

Readability tests are best used to measure improvement from version to version and to give you the opportunity to consider further what improvement may be appropriate for your document and your readers. Use readability tests in your work to reinforce your practice.

Plain Language Tip

Get to the point as directly as you can; never use a big word if a little one will do.

— Emily Carr


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Plain Language Best Practices Copyright © 2021 by West Coast Editorial Associates is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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