Blog Post Readability by Numbers

There was a time when I used to worry about the reading age for my blog, because I wanted to ensure the “readability” of my posts.

I’d been told the key to that was to make the language and sentence construction simple enough for someone with a reading age of level 7 or level 8. About 12-14 years of age.

That sounded too limiting.

But from what I’ve learned since, it probably made reasonable sense, at least in terms of a general readership.

I admit I was shocked when I looked at some statistics demonstrating how low the reading age is of populations in such countries as the USA, the UK and Australia.

So maybe, I thought, whatever my own prejudices and given that I wanted to communicate my ideas, and generate some discussion, it might make sense to endeavour to write more plainly, more simply.

I might have to get over any idea that I was dumbing down my communication.

Then and Now

That was all about 5 years ago.

My sense is that, in the time since then, I’ve not really bothered about the level of language or complexity of sentence structure I’ve used. Although I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always tried to write in a relatively plain-spoken way. In fact, I was once told by a publisher that my writing was “folksy”, and he made it clear he did not intend that as a compliment! I decided that if what he was criticizing was a down-to-earth, non-flowery style, I could live with that!

If I’ve thought about the topic at all in the past five years, I believe I would have just hoped that you and other readers would understand what I was saying, and that it would be interesting and helpful for you.

Then just the other day, I was thinking about all this again and wondering just what the reading age would be of my current or recent writing.

So I Ran Some Tests

I used one of the several online reading age tests, WebpageFX, and found some interesting variation between posts (and pages).

For example, with a blog post on Artificial Intelligence and the future of coaching (which I guessed would have a high reading age), I was surprised to see that  the result was a reading age of 9 – i.e. 14-15 year olds.

TEST RESULTS:
Your page (https://www.deswalsh.com/2017/07/24/reclaiming-passion-blogging/) has an average grade level of about 9. It should be easily understood by 14 to 15 year olds.

I then tested a static page, to compare the reading age there with that for the blog post. The page I used for the test was my About page. As I had guessed, the reading age was slightly higher than that for the blog post, i.e. reading age level of 10 – easily understood by 15-16 year olds. 

TEST RESULTS:
Your page (https://www.deswalsh.com/about/) has an average grade level of about 10. It should be easily understood by 15 to 16 year olds.

So then I decided to test another blog page, with a post about blogging. I have to say I was slightly surprised to find that the reading age was lower that either of the two pages tested. Quite a lot lower, at 7 – easily understood by 12-13 year olds.

TEST RESULTS:
Your page (https://www.deswalsh.com/2017/07/24/reclaiming-passion-blogging/) has an average grade level of about 7. It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.

Hmm. Was it possible I had been blogging at or near the “base” reading age without actually working on doing so?

And had the readability level of my blog posts changed much, up or down, over the time I had started thinking about all this, some five years ago, I tested a blog post from then and got, surprise surprise, another 7!

TEST RESULTS:

Your page (http://www.deswalsh.com/2012/09/11/have-you-updated-your-google-plus-profile-lately/) has an average grade level of about 7. It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.

Moving Right Along

Enough testing.

It’s time to circle back to the last part of the title of this post, “What’s the Reading Age of your Blog, and Does That Matter?”.

Whatever anyone claiming to be an expert says, there is no absolute rule for an ideal reading age for blogs. Like a lot of “rules” that are promulgated in the online world, the “rule” about writing for a level 7 or level 8 (ages 12-14) might well be appropriate if I’m writing for a general audience.

But there are plenty of blogs written for audiences who are likely have a higher level of reading comprehension and who might actually be irritated by a post which is not written at that level. A post by an astrophysicist, blogging for an audience of fellow astrophysicists, might well have me stumped by the end of the first sentence.

That said, I believe that for most of us it is not a bad idea to keep our vocabulary and sentence structure at a general readership level, which if the experts are to be believed means about level 7 or 8.

What’s your take on this? Have you tested the readability level of your blog, and with what result? 

And do you care? 🙂

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Des Walsh is a business coach and social media strategist. He helps owners of small and medium business meet confidently the special challenges of this age of rapid transformation, deliver great results and stay balanced and happy in the process. Des has been actively engaged for over 20 years in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy, is a certified specialist in social media strategy, a blogger, podcaster and co-author of the best-selling book LinkedIn for Recruiting.

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