How to Improve Your Readability Score: (And Why It Matters)

Do you want more people to read your content? If so, you need to make your content more readable. How to improve your readability score, such as your Flesch-Kincaid rating?

If you write content online, you might have noticed an automated program assigns your content a readability score. Sure, you’re smart and write at a high level. Therefore, you might assume that a higher grade level is better; however, this could harm your SEO rating.

Many readers online don't have the patience for reading content written beyond a 12th-grade level. If you're writing online, your target audience is likely to click away because of a distraction or social media. The Nielsen Norman Group found web users only read about 20 percent of the text on a page (ouch!)

Learning how to improve your readability score will keep readers engaged with online writing for longer and reduce your bounce rate. Readable content also helps readers digest ideas and information more easily. 

How Is Your Flesch-Kincaid Score Calculated?

How to improve your content readability score?

If you have ever seen your Flesch score, you might be wondering how this is calculated. This is a score from 0 to 100, with a lower score indicating that the content is easier to read. A score between 70 and 80 usually means the content is written at an eighth-grade reading level, which the average adult can understand easily.

The formula is:

0.39 x (words / sentences) + 11.8 x (syllables/words) – 15.59.

The core metrics involved in the score are word length and sentence length. The shorter the words are, the easier the content is to understand. The shorter your sentence length, the easier the readability.

While this might sound straightforward, it might be hard for you to change your writing style to make it more readable. There are several tips you can follow to improve your readability score.

1. Use Short, Easy to Understand Words

The longer your words are, the harder the content will be to read. If you can use a two-syllable word in that spot, don’t use a word with five syllables. This could force your reader to struggle to interpret your content.

For example, you might be using the word “inordinate.” While this word might make you sound smart, why make things harder for readers? Use “stubborn” instead. It means the same thing, it is shorter, and it will improve your readability score.

By reducing the number of complex words you can also improve your Gunning Fog rating.

2. Shorten Your Sentences

In addition, use shorter sentences. One of the most common reasons why people use long sentences is that they are using passive voice. Instead of using passive voice, use active voice. While passive voice might sound more formal, it also makes your sentences longer.

For example, the sentence “While the students believed they were following the instructions on the board, they were actually reading the information that was put up by the professor from the prior class, which was irrelevant to the lesson the instructor was trying to share,” is technically correct, it is far too long.

You can break this up into multiple, shorter sentences that are easier for the brain to process.

3. Eliminate Needless Adjectives and Adverbs

These modifiers can add value to your work if you use them sparingly; however, there are many situations where they are not necessary. If you add too many modifiers to your work, your audience will work way too hard to interpret it.

Only use your adjectives and adverbs if they are vital to the message you are trying to convey. Then, try to use adjectives adverbs that are short. That way, they don't harm your reading score.

I like Hemingway App for copyediting complex content, and it's free. Basically, it scans your work and uses some of Ernest Hemingway's Principles to highlight needlessly long words and adjectives.

4. Avoid Jargon

Unless you are writing an academic white paper, you don't need to use jargon in your work. A lot of occupations use language that is not easily understood by the public. While it might make you sound smart, you will also lose your audience quickly.

A lot of jargon contains too many syllables that can hurt your readability score.

For example, the phrase “oligodendroglioma” is a type of brain cancer. Unless you are writing for oncologists, the term “brain cancer” is probably good enough.

Jargon is one of the fastest ways to harm your readability score. Stay away from jargon in your work.

5. Use More Paragraphs

If you're writing literary fiction, it's fine to include run-on sentences and long paragraphs. However, anyone writing online uses shorter paragraphs to keep the attention of readers.

To understand how this works, buy a thriller book by James Patterson. He almost never uses paragraphs that are longer than two or three sentences. That's because short sentences keep a reader's attention for longer.

The eye can scan and move through short sentences much faster than large blocks of text. When in doubt remember: one idea per paragraph.

The eye can scan and move through short sentences much faster than large blocks of text

This image shows the difference between a block of text versus lots of paragraphs. Which is easier to scan through?

6. Include More Sub-Headings

Don't stop with short sentences. Every three or four paragraphs break up your article or content with a new sub-heading (H2). Editing your work like this has a number of benefits.

Firstly, it's faster to write, outline and edit an article broken up into separate sections.

Secondly, somebody can scan through your article without necessarily reading it all. Don't be under any illusions, that's what people reading online do!  

Thirdly, it gives you an opportunity to include more keywords in an article, thus helping your SEO.

Finally, it supports generating a table of contents for an article manually or via a WordPress plugin.

7. Use Formatting

Use formatting
Want to convey more than two or three ideas in a single section of your work? Break it up with bullet points

As an online writer formatting is your friend. It's the best way to break up longer articles and convey more information in less time.

  • Want to convey more than two or three ideas in a single section of your work? Break it up with bullet points.
  • Use numbered lists for your sub-headings, if relevant.
  • Need to emphasize a point? Use bold formatting, sparingly.
  • If it's an inner monologue, use italics.

If you're adding the hyperlinks to give more information to readers, remember not to avoid more than one hyperlink per every one to two sentences, as it's difficult for mobile users to click on them. 

8. Check Your Work With Readability Software

Two great options exist for writers and content creators today.

Firstly, you can use a tool such as Grammarly to identify instances of passive voice and other issues causing a low readability score. This tool evens rewrite sentences in the active voice at a click. Furthermore, Grammarly can also identify wordy sentences, highlighting words to cut.

Learn more about the Grammarly readability score report.

ProWritingAid is another good choice if you enjoy long-form writing or use Scrivener. It highlights difficult to read sentences and also produces a report that you can use to self-edit. ProWritingAid also scores your writing based on grammar, style and spelling, sentence length, and more. You can use this information to set readability and writing goals.

Other options include Microsoft Editor, Readable, and AutoCrit.

How To Improve Your Readability Score: The Final Word

Your readability score is important for SEO purposes as well as your audience. While writing at a high level is nice, it can also make it hard for your audience to follow along. Pay attention to your Flesch score. A middle school reading level is appropriate for many situations.

To improve your readability score, try to use shorter words and shorter sentences. You should also limit the use of modifiers and try to avoid jargon. If you use a tool such as Grammarly, you will receive automated suggestions that can help you improve your readability score.

FAQs About How To Improve Readability Score

Is my Flesch reading ease score important for search engine optimization?

Yes, readability formulas, such as the Automated Readability Index and your Flesch score, are important for SEO purposes. If you keep your sentences and paragraphs short, you can improve your readability score.

Can I incorporate a readability test with my WordPress site?

Yes, you can use Yoast SEO to improve your readability. You can figure out your average number of syllables, increase your subheadings, and use other tricks to improve your readability. This can help your target audience and reduce your bounce rate.

What is a good readability score?

It depends on your target market. Keeping your writing at a middle school level is good for the general public. You can use a tool such as Hemingway to help you improve your content's readability.

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