Use Words That Speak to Readers
Authors have typically achieved higher levels of education than the average reading level and tend to write at the same reading level as other authors in their niche. So where does that leave the actual reader?
According to many reports (including the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics’ 1992 Adult Literacy survey), the average reading level is the 7th or 8th grade. Combine that with reports of increasingly low-attention spans of Internet users who require even milder language and you’re looking at a reading level of the 6th or 7th grade.
What Should You Do?
Our recommendation is this: If you want to communicate the right idea to the right audience, then you need to use the language and vocabulary with which they’re most comfortable. Sometimes that will require simple words and sometimes more specific language should be used. Ultimately, you need to dig into the demographics of your target audience to determine their reading level. This will ensure you’re sensitive to their needs and will be able to communicate your message.
Also, take a look at recommended reading lists that are prescribed for the various reading levels. There are plenty of words like “assimilate” and “eccentric” that occur on 8th grade vocabulary lists, so it’s important to point out that reading level doesn’t indicate the shortness of words. The key is your readers should understand the words and its context.
What Do You Think?
Now we’d like to pose this highly debated question to you: What Reading Level Should You Target?
Do you believe that articles should be watered down to reach a wider audience? Why or why not?
Do you believe that audiences should be challenged with a higher reading level? Why or why not?
Share your feedback or questions in the comments section below. For those who are curious about where your article’s reading level is, stick around to calculate your current reading level.
Calculating Your Article’s Current Reading Level
There are several formulas to determine reading level (Flesch, Dale-Chall, Gunning, SMOG, etc.).
Read-able.com provides a great Readability Test Tool to help you easily determine the current reading level of your articles. All you have to do is enter your article’s URL and it will provide the actual scores for 6 readability formulas and the text statistics used to calculate your score.
Want a closer look at exactly how these reading levels are calculated? Try the SMOG formula!
We’ve chosen to outline Harry McLaughlin’s SMOG formula because it’s one of the most recent formulas proposed and it’s one of the easiest to calculate. However, if you wish to look further into assessing the reading level of your articles, we strongly recommend reviewing the Dale-Chall formula which incorporates a word list of easy words and has been often referred to as the most accurate formula.
How to Assess the Reading Level of Your Articles Using the SMOG Formula
SMOG stands for Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (wordy or generally unintelligible jargon) and is a measure of readability developed in the late 60s to estimate the years of education needed to understand a piece of writing.
It takes a bit of patience, but here’s how SMOG works:
- Select a total of 30 sentences in your article.
- Count the number of syllables for each word in each of the 30 sentences.
- Count the number of words that contain 3 or more syllables.
- Determine the nearest perfect square root of the total number of words with 3 or more syllables (use this PDF chart from ClassZone.com if you need a refresher).
- Add the result to the number 3 (a constant in the formula) and you will have calculated the grade level of your article.
For example: Suppose your article has 50 words with 3 or more syllables in the 30 sentences that you reviewed.
- 3-syllable word count = 50
- Estimate the nearest square root = 7
- Add 3 = 10
- 10th-grade reading level or college reading level
Don’t forget: We’d love to hear from you! Please share your feedback regarding the above question (What Reading Level Should You Target?) and feel free to share your writing’s reading level in the comments section below!