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Simplify ProposalsViews: 351
Feb 18, 2006 4:07 pmSimplify Proposals#

Steven Boaze

Ever wonder what it means when you run a spelling
and grammar check in Microsoft Word and you get
the box of "Readability Statistics?" What's a
good number and what's a bad one? What are they
measuring, anyway?

Readability is based on lots of factors, some of
them pretty subtle and very subjective. But the
two most important factors are sentence length
and word choice. Short sentences and simple words
are easier to read than long sentences and big

So here's some insight into how you can measure
the clarity of your writing. It explains what the
measures in Microsoft Word mean, and shows you
two ways you can do it yourself.

Measuring Clarity

When you use the Tools: Spelling and Grammar
option in Microsoft Word, and you have selected
"Show Readability Statistics" under Tools:
Options: Spelling and Grammar, you will see a
chart that tells you more than you ever wanted to
know about your writing.

The chart or box is titled "Readability
Statistics." It's divided into three parts:
Counts, Averages, and Readability. The section on
Counts tells you how many words, characters,
paragraphs, and sentences your chunk of writing
contains. The section on Averages tells you how
many sentences you have per paragraph on average,
how many words per sentence, and how many
characters per word. The final section, on
Readability, is probably the mystery. It tells
you the percentage of passive sentences your
writing contains, and then gives you the Flesch
Reading Ease index and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade
Level index.

Which prompts the question: What is that all

Well, Rudolf Flesch is now a forgotten figure,
but as an immigrant from Austria during the
Depression, he mastered English and eventually
received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in the
subject. His dissertation was an analysis of the
elements that contribute to clarity in English.
What he found was that the greater the number of
syllables per word, on average, and the greater
the number of words per sentence, on average, the
more difficult a piece of writing was to
understand. (Flesch measured syllables, but
Microsoft Word software counts letters, a rather
crude substitution.)

So when you see the Flesch Reading Ease index,
the software is applying his formula to your
writing to tell you how clear it is. And what
does the score mean? The higher the number, the
clearer the writing. The index scores writing
from 0 to 100. Zero means practically unreadable
and 100 means extremely easy. According to
Flesch, the minimum score for plain English is
60, or about 20 words per sentence and 1.5
syllables per word.

The grade level index is a measure of the
approximate reading proficiency a person must
have acquired to read the text comfortably. It's
not a measure of the complexity or intellectual
content of the writing, since this formula has no
way of calculating content at all.

There are several other formulas that publishers
and editors use to calculate readability. People
who followed in Flesch's footsteps include Edward
B. Fry, Irving E. Fang, and Wilson Taylor. One of
the most popular formulas was developed by Robert
Gunning, and it's simple enough that you can do
the calculations in your head.

Gunning's Fog Index

Robert Gunning's Fog Index has nothing to do with
the weather. Instead, it measures how
"foggy"--or, in other words, how unreadable--a
given piece of writing is. The formula computes
the school-grade level at which the piece can be
read comfortably.

To use the formula, follow these three steps:

1. Count the total number of words in a passage
of about 100 words, stopping at the period
closest to 100. Then count the number of
sentences in the passage. Divide the total number
of words in the passage by the number of
sentences. This gives you the average sentence
length. For example: 99 words / 3 sentences = 33
word Average Sentence Length

2. Going back over the same passage, count the
number of words having more than two syllables.
Do not include: a. words that are capitalized
(proper nouns like Cincinnati) b. words that are
combinations of short, easy words (compound c.
words like bookkeeper and understand) verb forms
that are made three syllables by the addition of
-ed, or -es or -ing (like created, trespasses,

3. Add the numbers representing the average
sentence length and the number of words having
three syllables or more. Then, to determine the
grade level value of the Fog Index, multiply this
sum by .4. If you're mathematically inclined, you
can see that this formula can be written:

.4 (ASL + Wpoly ) = Fog Index where,

ASL is the Average Sentence Length

Wpoly is the number of words with three or more

The Smog Index

Another easy formula is the Smog Index. Like the
Fog Index, the Smog Index measures the murkiness
inherent in a piece of writing. I'm sorry to say
I don't know who invented it, but its name
derives from the fact that it was developed in

It uses a slightly different method to arrive at
the final answer, which is again a school-grade
level that indicates the relative difficulty or
ease of reading the given passage.

To use the Smog Index, follow these four steps:

1. Count off thirty consecutive sentences in your

2. Count the number of words with three or more
syllables in the thirty sentences. (Follow the
same guidelines for finding words of three
syllables that you followed with the Fog Index.)

3. Find the square root of the number of
polysyllabic words.

4. Add three to that number. The result is the
grade level of the selection.

For example: if you found 50 words of three or
more syllables in the thirty sentences you
checked, you would take the square root of 50,
which is about 7, and add 3 to that number,
giving you a Smog Index of 10.

This formula can be generalized as square root:
(30/n sentences x Wpoly) + 3

Using the Readability Formulas

Readability--whatever else it may be--is a fairly
complex phenomenon. These formulas can give you a
rough numerical value which may or may not be an
accurate indicator of a passage's actual clarity.
It's possible that a passage might be full of
noun clusters, faulty parallel structure,
dangling modifiers, vague words, and so on, yet
get a good readability score.

However, as a rough guideline, they can be
useful, since they measure the two fundamental
components of the reading process: syntactical
difficulty and vocabulary familiarity.

When using the formulas, recognize that the right
level depends on the kind of document, the
delivery mode, even the part of the document. For
example, e-mail in general should have a lower
readability level than printed material. Why?
Because for most people it's more difficult to
read directly on the screen. They will understand
better if you keep the text simple.

In a proposal, the executive summary should be
kept to a grade level equivalent of 8 to 10. The
body, however, can be written at a grade level of
10 to 12 without posing a problem. Why? Because
the executive summary has to be accessible to all
potential readers, and must be easy to skim. The
body copy is more likely to be read by
specialists and will be read more carefully.

Nothing in your proposals, sales letters,
e-mails, Web sites, or other customer-oriented
messages should be above a grade level equivalent
of 12. If it is, you're asking the reader to do
more work than they're willing to do and you may
send the subliminal message that your ideas are
difficult to understand.

The bottom line - simplify.

Steven Boaze

Private Reply to Steven Boaze

Feb 18, 2006 5:44 pmre: Simplify Proposals#

Onkar Singh Plaha
Hi Steven,

A brilliant piece of information!
Thanks a lot.

Onkar Singh

Private Reply to Onkar Singh Plaha

Feb 20, 2006 5:41 amre: re: Simplify Proposals#

Sheetal Gandhi

Thanks for the brilliant information.


Private Reply to Sheetal Gandhi

Feb 20, 2006 6:14 amre: re: re: Simplify Proposals#

Wot's... Uh The Deal (Vijai)
Excellent Steven. It's like hitting upon an easter egg!
Although, I would use this tool more as an indicator rather than an absolute and conclusive testing method (which I think you've already mentioned).
But that is not to hide and admit the fact that this is one of those undocumented beauties.

Private Reply to Wot's... Uh The Deal (Vijai)

Feb 20, 2006 1:43 pmre: re: Simplify Proposals#

Steven Boaze

Thanks sheetal9, Onkar, and Vijai.

I truly appreciate your value, and kind thoughts.


Private Reply to Steven Boaze

Feb 20, 2006 6:11 pmre: Simplify Proposals#

Cathy Qazalbash
Wow Steve,

Thank you this is remarkable information. Simplicity is always my key but I did not know there was so much informmation on this.

Cathy Q

Private Reply to Cathy Qazalbash

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