In last weeks post we looked at MS Word and its inbuilt proofing tools.

Proofing tools are digital aids built into MS Word (and other applications) to assist you with written communications. These include:

  • Spell check
  • Word count
  • Translate
  • Language
  • Comments
  • Track changes

This week, we look at one additional proofing tool which can be added in to help you write better content. By improving our skills and being mindful of audience needs, it still links to accessibility. Let’s get started.

Adding in readability proofing tools

Did you know you can add in readability and view readability scores to your Word Documents? Some might consider this to be an advanced feature in MS Word but it’s as simple as A B C.

To turn this feature on, simply go to File, Options and Proofing. You may need to scroll down a bit, in the third section (when correcting spelling and grammar in Word), put a check-mark beside Show Readability Statistics. Remember to click OK. Magic!

MS Word - Word Options dialogue box
MS Word – Word Options dialogue box

Now, how do you access these stats? Simply do a Spell Check (Review and Spell Check or F7). Once the spell check has completed, you’ll get readability statistics on the following:

  • Word/character counts
  • Number of paragraphs/sentences
  • Average
    • sentence per paragraph
    • words per sentence
    • characters per word
  • Flesch reading ease
  • Flesch-Kincaid grade level and
  • Passive sentences

Here’s an example Readability Statistics dialogue box from one of my Word docs (below).

MS Word – Readability statistics

Who knew this was available in MS Word? And what does it all mean? Well, the last three items are of interest in terms of readability. Let’s look at those individually.

Flesch reading ease

The Flesch reading ease test uses a 100-point scale to rate your text. Higher scores indicate easier understanding of content. A good Flesch reading ease is between 60 and 70 and this is what writers should aim for. Scores in this range means average students aged 13-14 should be able to understand the content. And yes higher scores are better and lower scores might indicate content is more complex and for more specialist audiences.

Someone once told me if content is easily understood by an average 11 year old, I’m writing well. This is a 90-100 score and if you’re achieving that, you’re writing well too!

The Flesch Reading Ease test uses two variables to calculate readability scores:

  • average sentence length (ASL) (measured by the number of words)
  • average number of syllables per word (ASW)

The formula for the Flesch Reading Ease score is:

206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)

Ideal sentence lengths are 15-20 words. It’s OK to have some longer as this test is based on the average. Just remember, the longer the sentence, the more complex it becomes. Shorter is better.

So how is the Flesch-Kincaid test different?

Flesch-Kincaid grade level

The Flesch–Kincaid Grade Level scores uses US Grade Levels to make it easier for teachers, parents, librarians, etc., to judge a books readability level for the age/grade of student whom should be able to read it.

There is another way of viewing this test which is the number of years education required to understand the content. This is more relevant when test results are greater than 10 and content is more complex.

A score of 8.0 should mean an 8th grader (students aged 13-14) can understand the content. The aim for scores is approximately 7.0 to 8.0.

This test uses the same variables as the previous test (ASL / ASW). The formula for the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is:

(.39 x ASL) + (11.8 x ASW) – 15.59

Moving on to passive sentences.

Passive sentences

If there was a score for writing passively, I would achieve high figures. This is an area of writing I have to work at. I’m sure many people don’t think about how they write but when this is highlighted, you might write more passively than actively and need to work on this to improve your writing.

With passive voice, the subject receives the action. This creates indirect sentences. When using active voice, subjects perform the actions stated by the verb. Using active voice creates easier to understand sentences.

What are subjects?

Sentences may contain a subject and a verb. Subjects are a person or thing in the sentence. For example, me, I, you, the cat, insect bites, etc. These are all subjects and with active voice, subjects perform actions (verbs).

What are verbs?

Action verbs (doing words / dynamic verbs) convey actions whether they are physical or mental. An action verb explains what the subject of sentences are doing or have done. For example, bake/baked/baking, ran/run/running, walk/walked/walking, etc. These are all verbs or actions.

What are nouns?

Nouns are naming words. Consider it a simple definition of a person, place or thing. For example, person. Person as a noun names: man, woman, tutor, Bob, Beth. Place as a noun names: office, city, country, Australia. If the noun is thing, this names: motorbike, orange, films, animals, etc.

Nouns can be subjects or objects within a sentence depending on how the sentence is structured. Subjects perform actions whilst objects receive the action.

To reiterate passive voice, the subject receives the action.

Example of passive sentences:

  • Cakes are baked by you.
  • Dinner is eaten by the dog.

Active voice, subjects perform the actions stated by the verb.

Example of active sentences:

  • You bake cakes.
  • The dog eats dinner.

Essentially, passive voice is made up of thing, action and subject. Active voices are made up of subject, action and thing. Let’s break it down.

Active sentence

Passive sentence

I mix concrete.

[Subject / Object]

Concrete is mixed by me.

[Object / Subject]

Active verbs follow subject
i.e. a doing verb.

Passive verbs follow abstract
nouns with actions being

“Me” is the subject/object, the doer of the action.

We hope you have found this weeks post useful to help improve writing your skills whether that be for blogs, assignments, papers, etc.


Along with the proofing and review tools from last week, we want to share some MS Word resources with you.

Next time

We won’t be releasing a blog next week (Monday 3rd May) as the University is closed for May Day.

Our next blog post will be May 10th with a new series looking at different types of disability we may encounter within our audiences and what we should be providing in terms of accessibility. Whilst different disabilities require different outcomes, many of these outcomes should be offered as standard.

This is not a one size fits all solution and a solution that works with one disability may conflict with another. However, it’s all about growing with our audiences and as accessibility standards change over time, we do too.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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