The Flesch index is a formula that decides how easy it is to read your work. The formula is based on the length of your sentences and the number of syllables in each word – fewer words and fewer syllables equals easier reading. If you’re interested, there’s lots more info about how it works here.
The formula produces a score out of 100, with a score of more than 40 being reasonably clear. Maths enthusiasts may enjoy working out the score for themselves, but Microsoft Word will do it for you. Just select Tools > Options > Spelling and Grammar and tick the Show readability stats box. Your Flesch score will then appear after you’ve run a spelling and grammar check.
The good news for me was that a couple of pieces chosen randomly from the Carphone help section did well. This page explaining how broadband works scored 71.4, while this one about online billing got 73.1. According to Jane’s blog, a typical article from The Sun scored 62. As we’re using simpler language than Chelsea, 22 from Essex, it’s safe to assume we’re not baffling anyone with our verbosity.
The obvious question to ask is: ‘is the Flesch index useful?” Like all formulas, it only measures success according to a few select criteria, and with something as abstract and flexible as writing that doesn’t seem a good idea. The other problem with using Flesch is that you’re likely to end up manipulating your copy purely to get a better score, which isn’t necessarily conducive to the initial aim of making your writing clearer.
That said, I’m sure I’ll obsessively check my work from now on to see just how ‘readable’ I can become. There’s nothing like the introduction of a scorecard to get the competitive juices flowing. And in the interests of research, I did get a Flesch score for Sonnet 18 by Shakespeare. I was sure that nothing so old could fare well according to a ‘readability’ formula. It got 81.9.
Which goes to show that beauty definitely is simplicity. And that Flesch maybe has a point.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.