Readability Level


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Thread: Readability Level

  1. #1

    Readability Level

    I recently wrote something that I checked with grammarly, which said that what I wrote was on about a seventh grade reading level. (I don't remember exactly.) I was, in fact, attempting to write easy to read prose, although I did not want it to be too simple. So I avoided certain difficult forms of syntax, such as disconnected phrases, spoken of in one of Emma Sohan's books. I did not avoid them altogether, I do not think, but enough for my prose to be easy to read. I mean, I measured it with grammarly.

    But the thing is, I want to write prose on at least a twelfth grade reading level, because I like sophisticated language. However, I am not sure what grammatical choices to make in order to acheive that. I might write prose that is convoluted. I like the Book of Hebrews in the KJV Bible, and wish to write prose with that level of sophistication, but I know of no grammar guide or style guide to help me with that.

    But people seem to think that all prose should be on a 7th grade reading level. I disagree.

  2. #2
    If you want it to sell, you want to be around a 5-6th grade level. That's what James Patterson does, at least when he actually bothers to write his own books. You can disagree all you want, but for salability, they're right. Less is more successful.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by lumino View Post
    I recently wrote something that I checked with grammarly, which said that what I wrote was on about a seventh grade reading level. (I don't remember exactly.) I was, in fact, attempting to write easy to read prose, although I did not want it to be too simple. So I avoided certain difficult forms of syntax, such as disconnected phrases, spoken of in one of Emma Sohan's books. I did not avoid them altogether, I do not think, but enough for my prose to be easy to read. I mean, I measured it with grammarly.

    But the thing is, I want to write prose on at least a twelfth grade reading level, because I like sophisticated language. However, I am not sure what grammatical choices to make in order to acheive that. I might write prose that is convoluted. I like the Book of Hebrews in the KJV Bible, and wish to write prose with that level of sophistication, but I know of no grammar guide or style guide to help me with that.

    But people seem to think that all prose should be on a 7th grade reading level. I disagree.
    Unless you're writing for children or have some other special reason, I don't think you need to worry about this.

  4. #4
    I just checked the 9.4k story I recently finished. It's sitting at a reading level of 4.1 with an ease of 85.4. I'm basically illiterate.

  5. #5
    I read once that all commercials on television are written for a low-grade level, so everyone will understand the message. I can't say that's really true, but it does seem that it may be a little dangerous to put your wordsmith skills on display too much. I admit (although I can't think of any title right now) that I have read books that leave me so lost that I just abandon them. Many times, it involves geography - like when writers write with familiarity about locales that most people know nothing about, and because of their familiarity influencing their descriptions, I cannot even begin to visualize what they are really like.

    I checked and the above is written at a 13th grade level, according to Flesch-Kincaid, with a reading ease of 50. I don't think there is anything about this paragraph that most people would not understand, but what do I know?
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  6. #6
    Basing sophistication of language on arbitrary 'reading levels' is pointless because it only takes into account the complexity of words, how obscure they are, not the complexity of the ideas, the substance

    The only reason stuff like the King James Bible scores a high 'reading level' is because it employs lots of obscure archaisms:

    God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; 3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: 4 Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? 6 And again, when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
    ^ This rates as 'college' level and that is solely because of the archaic language. We know this because if you removed the archaic language and converted them to words that are actually used in the 21st century, you would have this:

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.
    This is just as literary and contains the exact same meaning. It is however scoring on a much lower 'reading level' (sixth grade), simply by conversion to slightly more modern language. Yet the meaning is the same, and it still reads very formally.

    So, when you talk about wanting to achieve some arbitrary reading level, I believe what you're really talking about is making as much of your language as incomprehensible as possible to the largest number of people. Which, fine, but it's basically elitism, isn't it? A kind of intellectual snobbery? What other reason is there for caring about this?
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I just checked the 9.4k story I recently finished. It's sitting at a reading level of 4.1 with an ease of 85.4. I'm basically illiterate.
    That's amazing, I checked a 9.4k words humorous story of mine, I got Readability Score 85. For someone with at least 6th grade (11yo)!


    Anyway, when you said Book of Hebrews, you mean those chapters in the New Testament?
    "For whom the lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, god dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"
    Hebrews 12: 6-7


    I think you already gave yourself an answer "because I like sophisticated language", then go for it.
    As you said, you haven't found any grammar guide or style guide to write akin to those translators at King James' court, I wouldn't pay mind to what people think about prose. Write what you like.

    In Asimov, Robots and Foundations works, every character speaks with such a fluent speech, everyone appears as a smart-pants who puts together awesome syllogism.
    It's sophisticated in the style but not in the content. The average reader can read it.

    Robinson, in his Mars Trilogy, let his characters have more distinct personalities yet the content of the books is often scientific. At times he forgets he's writing a novel and turns it into an astronomical, mathematical, geopolitical -whatever essay. The style is smart, language is modern and "common" yet the content is sophisticated. I haven't met any Average Joe who actually finished the first book.


    The KJV quote above may be considered sophisticated (maybe) in the style, certainly not in the content.. or at least I wouldn't consider whipping my son "sophisticated".

    So, you have something smart to say, or just something you'd like to say in a smart way?

  8. #8
    @tomkat I bet we both keep the writing pretty simple, but you must have a few more 5c words than I do lol

  9. #9
    A lot of grade level reading calculators don't take anything about content into consideration. They're mostly based on sentence length and the number of syllables in the words.

    I write about some *adult* stuff and often score between 6-8... but there's no way in hell I'd want anyone of that grade level anywhere near said material. I think I took some random-ish samples of the current WIP and scored everything from 5th grade to college. It's not a big deal in either case because the subject matter is too mature for anything less than adults.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
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    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Cephus View Post
    If you want it to sell, you want to be around a 5-6th grade level. That's what James Patterson does, at least when he actually bothers to write his own books. You can disagree all you want, but for salability, they're right. Less is more successful.
    There are various different formulas around all giving vastly different 'grades'. That excerpt I posted of Hebrews from the KJV came out as 'college', ninth grade, fifth grade, and various others, depending on what index it was. Measuring complexity is....quite complex.

    Additionally, a lot of hard science fiction is probably not going to calculate at a 5-6th grade level, certainly not if it's an A.I system doing the calculations. Likewise for some high fantasy: A few archaic words, a few 'hast thous' or 'wouldst thees' and Grammarly or whatever dumb robot is reading is going to up the grade, even though in a broader semantic context the meaning may not be especially challenging.
    Last edited by luckyscars; November 17th, 2019 at 05:25 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

    Hidden Content


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