The Flesch-Kincaid readability score is a metric that helps writers identify cluttered language. For example, a score of Grade 9 means it would take a ninth grade education to understand the text. The rule of thumb is to aim for a level no higher than Grade 6 or 7 for the best reading experience. Higher scores tend to deter the average reader. Why? Parsing language takes time. If the passage is too dense the reader will ditch. Put another way: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Keep it simple.
Hemingway is a browser-based version of this tool that also highlights the source of the problems. Mauve for the most unruly, yellow for the merely “hard to read.” Additional dings awarded for adverbs and passive voice. Complex words (“therefore”) and wishy-washy expressions like “maybe” and “perhaps” are also marked.
That last paragraph in the hands of Hemingway looks like this:
How meaningful are these complaints? As a baseline, I decided to feed it writing samples that most would agree are exemplars. The best of the best. For example, here are the first three chapters of Pride and Prejudice. Sorry, Jane!
Next, the opening of Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant 1985 novel, Blood Meridian. The author’s trademark austerity earns a big thumbs up, clearly.
Meanwhile, the app’s namesake receives mixed results…
How about a recent New York Times front page story?
And finally, Proust!
Okay, that’s probably not fair. I just wanted to see a page of rose-hued text.
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t check grammar. At all.
Conclusion? Helpful but don’t take it literally. And yes, I ended with an adverb.
More on the Flesch-Kincaid test: https://www.webfx.com/tools/read-able/flesch-kincaid.html.