I applaud all of you who use reading ease tests to make sure other people can understand your content. I love the emphasis on short words, sentences and paragraphs of Flesch Kincaid and other tests, now built into Word, Outlook and many web page programs. Yet, something is missing. That would be interest.
That’s why I love the reading interest test from the same Flesch, first namely Rudolf. I first discovered this in Ann Wylie’s always informative newsletter on writing. But the trouble with Rudolf and his vintage infographic that I posted on earlier is the lack of online measurement and his encouragement of sexist words, such as waitress. Plus he likes exclamation points, seen too often in cheesy sales copy. None of these comes as a surprise for a test published in 1949.
To adapt my book, Write Like You Talk Only Better, as an e-learning series, I need an assessment tool so people can track their progress. So I eliminated the outdated stuff and reinvented Rudolf’s reading interest test.
From his extensive research on popular magazines, Rudolf found that writers generate interest from readers by getting personal. He called for personal words, especially gender-specific pronouns, such as his or her and words like actress, Jim or father.
Rudolf encouraged the use of people and folks, not faceless groups as business writers do so often with users, customers or stakeholders. Rudolf also recommended personal sentences, including quoted dialogue, questions, commands and requests addressed to the reader, exclamations and “incomplete sentences, where the reader can infer the full meaning.”
What Word can do
To keep the test simple, I looked at what Word could do. Using only spell check and find, you can count how many times you write you, or variations thereof, and quoted dialogue. With a quick reread, you can spot requests and commands directed at the people reading. What’s more, spell check will underline in green the sentence fragments or what Rudolf calls “incomplete sentences, where the reader can infer the full meaning,” as well as contractions and other conversational techniques Rudolf skipped that make your writing more personal.
Here’s my test. Let me know what you think.
So you will have a baseline for later comparison, pick 100 words from any document you’ve written recently, from a routine email to a complex report. Paste it into another document. Make sure you have spell check turned on.
Search for you. Include your, you’re and other variations. Give yourself a point for each use.
Search for quotation marks used to identify what somebody said out loud. Again, another point for each one.
Search for question marks. One point each.
Find requests and commanded directed to the reader.
Look for the green underlining on sentence fragments. Because they imply conversational language, you can count green-underlined sentences that begin with a conjunction, contractions and other conversational phrases. You can exclude any of these that don’t support the tone of your brand.
Add these up for your score. Compare scores when you want to see if your writing is getting more interesting.
For an example, let’s look at the first 100 words in my e-learning introduction:
You might not consider yourself a writer. But if you spend your days tethered to a computer or smart phone, chances are you write. A lot. Chances are you spend loads of time reading too.
By investing a little time most days, you’ll soon say goodbye to writer’s block. You’ll persuade more people to read, remember and respond to what you’ve written. You’ll avoid the gaffes that can undermine your reputation. What’s more, you’ll write faster.
This took me more than 30 years to figure out. But you can learn in just five weeks. All you have to do is
Number of times I used
you or a variation 14
quotation marks 0
a question mark 0
a reader-directed command or request 1
sentence fragments or other 6
conversational techniques that spell check
underlined in green
My score 21
In addition to testing reading interest, anyone who is not already should test reading ease. You can enable this test or paste some writing into the box at this link. You’ll repeat this test later, so you can measure how much easier you are to understand.
I realize my reading interest test is not as comprehensive as it could be. I wish someone with the programming and linguistic expertise would develop one.
In the meantime, if you combine one of the standard reading ease tests with my simple reading interest test, you’ll have a much better idea of how much people will enjoy your content and measure your improvement.
Try it and see. I command you.