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Writing for the Robot | Word Analytics Explained

by | Jan 24, 2014 | Writing | 1 comment


*This article has a reading ease of 66.9 and a grade level of 7.2. More than 11 percent of the words are considered “complex.”

Readers judge writing all the time. They take content, purpose, delivery, word complexity, length, and format into consideration. But while we nitpick and reason with ourselves, there has been a major trend sprouting up in the world of online marketing.

Known as The Flesch Reading Ease Test (or the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level), a method exists that pushes word length, sentence length, and syllables through a formula to determine a piece’s comprehensibility. Out of 100, here are what the scores mean:

  • 90+ An article is written for the everyday 11-year-old
  • 60-70 Easily understood by students aged 13 to 15
  • 0-30 Written for college graduates

These numbers are calculated by taking a piece’s words, sentences, and syllables into account. For the extensive formula, check out the Flesch Wikipedia entry.

Put simply, the more words in a sentence and more syllables in the words make writing less readable. Scores are higher when sentences have fewer words and caveman syllables. Curious what this all means in terms of online content, blogging, and social media?

Go to Google, type in a website, click “Search Tools,” “All Results,” then “Reading Level.” This will break down results based on the scaled reading level and allows Googlers to limit searches to basic, intermediate, or advanced results. Google runs a Flesch-type algorithm and takes readability (i.e. spelling and grammar) into account when it ranks popular articles and websites.

The “KISS” Conundrum

Every student heard an English teacher say, “Keep it simple, stupid,” before assigning a paper. When writing for the Web, though, does this mean keeping sentences snappy and stocked with monosyllabic words is the best way to communicate a message to readers? Let’s take a look at a pair of examples that pertain to blogging. Pretend that these are pulled out of longer articles written in the same style.

“To blog well, you need to write lots of stuff that has to do with your business. Write what you know. For blogs, spell words the right way. Next, post blogs on websites. All said and done, your blog should be great.”

“Blogging is more than spamming daily articles into your followers’ newsfeeds; you need to actively pursue topics that interest your readers and pertain to your industry. Write what you know, for starters, and double-check for grammar, spelling, and readability. Link your blogs through your other online assets (i.e. websites) for the best results.”

Ran through Read-Able.com, these two paragraphs (that say pretty much the same thing) score a 107.7 (grade level of 3, understood by 8-9 year olds) and a 63.4 (grade level of 9, understood by 14-15 year olds), respectively.

Honestly, though, which is more engaging, informative, and easier to read? Just because a paragraph has shorter and simpler words doesn’t make it more effective. The first paragraph is clunky, boring, and readers would assume the writer is a third grader.

Here’s how marketers should approach this:

Readability comes into play on page rankings and the likelihood people will find articles and blogs. This factor, however, is minor. It is much more important for Web writers to focus on increasing “readability” by informing and entertaining an audience.

That audience, of course, does come into play. By researching Flesch analytics, you can marry your content to robot readability to encourage certain types of readers.

Google a few press outlets and see the range of results you get. The New York Times has an overwhelming number of basic/intermediate results while ESPN’s “basic” rating pulls ahead. Immanuel Kant, however, has a 51 percent “advanced” rating. What’s your Flesch score?