How readable is your story?

Duke Humfrey’s Library, the oldest reading room of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford   Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I’ve been wandering about on the old interweb looking for something to rate the reading level of my latest work-in-progress. It’s a children’s book, and this is the first time I’ve written for any audience other than adult (apart from one short story).

I’d tried comparing with some of the books which I still have on my shelves from my childhood, but I suppose I was looking for something more analytical.

Then I came across the Automatic Readability Checker from ‘Readability Formulas’. All you have to do is cut and paste some text from your work and you’ll get an assessment of the grade-age range of your writing. Interesting, huh?

So, I tried the first few paragraphs of the children’s story. The results show it’s ‘easy/fairly easy to read’ and at fourth to sixth grade level (9-12 years), which is great; I’m aiming at the middle grade market!

Then I tried some samples from my first novel, The Silver Locket. This comes out at much the same level. Interesting! So finally I popped in a couple of paragraphs from ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which is the new novel I’ve just finished editing and I get a slightly higher reading age, 11-15 years.

Also interesting. Then I read somewhere else that Ernest Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ is a fourth grade read and that Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling both come out at between fifth and sixth grade levels.

It’s all about ‘readability’ and actually, who wants to read something difficult, unless it’s an academic text? And even then, wouldn’t you be aiming for at least a good level of readability?

In the end though, I guess the best judge is the reader. I’ll be posting my new work-in-progress children’s novel a weekly chapter at a time, starting next week. And I’ll be interested, as always, in your feedback. Must think of a title!


12 thoughts on “How readable is your story?

  1. I often look at Word’s built in readability score once I am done with everything. Using the smaller count versions are great for judging a chapter, but if your writing is like mine, the complexity of the sentences can vary from chapter to chapter. My current one starts at the 8-9 y/o reader and the most complex chapter (in my opinion) is the 10-11 y/o reader. Sometimes I think it varies with the characters as well. Knowing your audience is the key though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did find that variety actually. Mostly dialogue had a lower reading age, I suppose because it’s made up of shorter sentences. And different characters would probably have different ‘internal dialogues’, so that would vary too. It’s only one element to consider though and as you say, it’s about knowing your reader.


  3. I’m a great fan of Lexile and readability checks. I used them a lot when I was teaching beginning English learners at middle school level. I used it to check whether readings were at their level and was able to edit until I got to the readability I wanted. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to write the copy for my Employer’s website. The articles had to be pitched at a reading age of
    7 years old to comply with diversity protocol. It’s amazing what can be stripped out of a story. As they say, if you can’t explain it to a child, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

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