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Readability is a measure of the accessibility of a piece of writing, indicating how wide an audience it will reach.

Readability depends principally on how easy it is to understand. Presentation factors unrelated to the language of the text also affect readability, for example choice of typeface, text size, layout and colours.

Readability is defined as reading ease, especially as it results from a writing style. Extensive research has shown that easy-reading text improves comprehension, retention, reading speed, and reading persistence.

Ease-of-reading is the result of the interaction between the text and the reader. In the reader, those features affecting readability are 1. prior knowledge, 2. reading skill, 3. interest, and 4. motivation. In the text, those features are 1. content, 2. style, 3. design, and 4. structure[1]. The design can include the medium, layout, illustrations, reading and navigation aids, typeface, and color. Correct use of type size, line spacing, column width, text-color-background contrast and white space make text easy to read. (See Typography#Readability and legibility for more details.)

Among language experts, readability is a score produced by a readability formula, which is usually calibrated against a more labor-intensive readability survey. The formulas are widely used to match texts with the reading level of the audience.

Extensive research has shown that the popular readability formulas are not 100% accurate, but they give a "good rough estimate" of the reading skill required to read a text. The readability formulas have greatly benefited millions of readers throughout the world in many languages. If there is any problem with the formulas, it is that they are not used enough [2] [3] [4].

Publishers not only use readability formulas to assess the reading level of a text. They also use word-frequency lists. The frequency of a word is a good indication of its ease-of-use. Text leveling, a subjective evaluation of a text based on training and experience,Template:Clarify me is another important adjunct of using a formula.[5]

Since the 1930s, national literacy surveys have shown that the average adult in the U.S. reads at the 8th-grade level. Many students read "below grade level". For example, many high-school graduates read at the 8th-grade level, and college graduates at the 10th-grade level. With practice, readers with little formal education can often become advanced readers. (DuBay 2006, National Assessment of Adult Literacy).

Nearly all of today's blockbuster writers write at the 7th-grade level, including John Grisham, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and Dan Brown. Experts today recommend writing legal and health information at the 7th-grade level. Laws often require writing medical and safety information at the 5th-grade level[6]. Learning to write for a class of readers other than one's own is very difficult. It takes method, training, and lots of practice. As Jacques Barzun wrote, "Simple English is no person's native tongue."[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Writers, editors, and publishers also often make intuitive assessments of readability based on experience, insight into their target audience, and knowledge of a number of rules of thumb, which are often derived from assessing a number of readability survey results.

Readability formulas give a rough indication of a passage's readability. They generate a score based on word length (which is a proxy for semantic difficulty) and sentence length (which is a proxy for syntactic complexity). Scores are compared with scales based on judged linguistic difficulty or reading grade level. Many readability formulas measure word length in syllables rather than letters, but only SMOG has a computerized readability program incorporating an accurate Syllable Counter. Since readability tests do not factor in meaning, they should not be considered definitive measures of readability. Certain word processing programs have some of these formulas built in.

Some readability tests for English are:

See also


  1. Gray, W. S. and B. Leary. 1935. What makes a book readable. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  2. Chall, J. S. 1958. Readability: An appraisal of research and application. Columbus, OH:Ohio State University Press.
  3. DuBay, W. H. 2006. Smart language: Readers, Readability, and the Grading of Text. Costa Mesa:Impact Information.
  4. Klare, G. R. 1963. The measurement of readability. T. Ames, IA:Iowa State University Press.
  5. Fry, E. 2002. "Readability versus leveling." Reading teacher 56, no. 3:286-292.
  6. Doak, C. C., L. G. Doak, and J. H. Root. 1996. Teaching patients with low literacy skills. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott Company.
  7. Flesch, R. 1946. The art of plain talk. New York:Harpers.

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