Even if you use MS Word you might not be familiar with readability stats.
I became aware of them a couple of years ago and use them as a ‘constant editor’. You can customise the program to warn you of such things as passive voice, complex sentences and ‘difficult’ words. For those interested. below is an example of information you can access.
Interesting, no? Oh OK, not particularly. But take a look at the bottom segment, Readability. We, or at least I, am interested in the two last items, Flesch Reading ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.Simply put, the Grade Level refers to the grade in school of the reader, in the illustration on the left that would equate to Grade 7 (American) which I think means that a twelve year old could read the and understand the work in question. It doesn’t imply that the work is deemed suitable for a twelve year old, merely that in terms of comprehension they should be able to understand it. Similarly the Reading Ease refers to exactly what it says. To summarise, the shorter the sentence the greater the number of readers will be able to understand it.
Very interesting (yawn), so what?
American author James V Smith came up with something he called REI, or Reading Ease Ideal. The link will take you to an interview with the Readers Digest and you can it research further if you’re interested. Basically Smith studied the best-selling novels and found that they all had a couple of things in common.
!) The average number of letters in a word was 4.5 and most were 4.3 or less.
2) The Flesch-Kincaid Grade level was six, i.e. able to be read by an eleven year old.
So there you have it. If you want to write a best-seller, make sure that you use short words and short sentences that can be readily understood by an eleven year old. I’m not quite sure where that leaves the literary giants of the last one hundred and fifty years, Dickens, Joyce, Tolkien and Heaney to name but four.
Personally, as a reader I feel a little embarrassed to realise what best-selling authors think of my reading ability.
As a writer, I feel I’ve finally ‘got it’. My next book will start with the words ‘the cat sat on the mat. It was a nice cat…’ That should keep the letter count down, the word-in-sentence count down and any eleven year old can follow it. Hacked it then, the only question to be answered is what upholstery do I want in the executive jet.