My presentation partner Pattie used to be my boss. When I worked for Pattie, she always wanted me to write on a sixth grade level. Try as I might, the best I could dial it back to was eighth grade.
Dealing with the situation was a problem of my own making because Pattie and I had a conversation one day about the readability of a piece of text. I ran the stats. Pattie asked, “How did you do that?” I showed her. Now Pattie uses this bit of knowledge to benchmark everyone who writes anything for her. You have to be careful what you show Pattie. It can come back to haunt you!
The grade level you write at is important for getting information across to your reader. With a little practice, anyone can write compound sentences with high flown words that send readers scurrying to a dictionary. However, if your objective is a pleasant read that is readily understood, trooping out your high-end English skills may not be the best way to go.
Knowing the grade level that you’re writing at can help you make adjustments. For example, I learned that long paragraphs that include more than one idea quickly pumped up the grade level. If a paragraph reaches somewhere in the neighborhood of five or six lines, I start looking at it to make sure that I haven’t let a new idea creep in. Besides, if a paragraph goes over nine lines, Pattie won’t read it, and I think Pattie is typical of many modern readers.
In addition, compound sentences that require your reader to slow down and dissect the sentence to ensure that they understand it is, in my opinion, counterproductive too. These types of sentences also pump up the readability stats on your document.
To gauge your normal writing level—and eighth grade in my opinion is just fine—you can set up Word to run readability statistics routinely. Here’s how you do it.
1. From the main menu, select Tools and then Options. The Options dialog appeared.
2. Click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
3. Look in the Grammar group for the option Show readability statistics, and click it to add a check mark.
4. Click OK. The next time you run a spelling and grammar check on a document, the statistics display automatically when you finish the check.
Word 2007 and 2010
1. In Word 2007, click the Office button (big button in upper left of screen). A pop-up menu appears. In Word 2010, click the File tab.
2. In Word 2007, click the Word Options button at the bottom of the pop-up menu. In Word 2010, click Options. The Word Options dialog appears.
3. Select Proofing. The Proofing dialog appears.
4. Look for When correcting spelling and grammar in Word.
5. In the group, look for Show readability statistics, and click it to add a check mark.
5. Click OK to save your change and close the dialog. The next time you run a spelling and grammar check on a document, the statistics display automatically when you finish the check.
To stop displaying statistics, repeat the steps and remove the check mark.