Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 19 November 2011

How Readable is Your Blog?


One of the things we discussed at the Writing for the Web course I attended recently was the readability of various media. I was surprised to learn the average reading age in the UK is 10 years. The reading ages of The Sun, The Guardian and The Financial Times are 8, 14 and undergraduate level respectively. Whilst many people sneer at The Sun's content, it's the only paper we looked at on the course which has a chance of being read and understood by the majority of the UK's population. This may help to explain why The Sun has relatively high sales.

We then turned our attention to our web writing and a simple tool available on Google Search which can be used to gauge the simplicity of the language we use. You'll see in the image above I've put my blog's address into Google. As usual various pages from my blog are returned together with some examples of where it's mentioned elsewhere on the web.

I've then gone down the various options in Google Search's left sidebar and clicked on Reading Level (circled)* and up pops a graph showing how much I'm using Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Language in percentage terms. As you can see (click to enlarge image if necessary) the bulk of my text is at the Basic level. I must have been using fancier language recently (or discussing more 'difficult' subjects) as I now have 1% in the Advanced range. There was none of that when I tried this search immediately after the course ;)

When I first started blogging, there was a popular sidebar quiz widget doing the rounds which showed blog readability**. I remember quite a few people congratulating themselves when it said College (aka University) level. That's probably fine if your blog's about e.g. quantum physics or aiming at a relatively sophisticated audience, but for the majority of us who just blog about general, everyday things it might mean we'd lose our readers pretty quickly. So in this instance a large dollop of Basic is good :)

Reading Level could be useful for some of your Google searches too. Next time you want to explain or understand something that's quite complicated, use it to put your search results in order of complexity. I might not be explaining quantum physics to you or expounding on matters philosophical, but it would have been a useful option when I wrote about open pollinated seed varieties a couple of years ago.

How readable is your blog? Why not have a go for yourself and tell me in the Comments below.

* = if it isn't showing on your sidebar, you should have a More Search Tools option showing under The Web heading towards the bottom of the sidebar. Click on this and a host of extra options should magically appear including the Reading Level one. My thanks to my lovely NAH for pointing out the option wasn't there when he looked for it :)

** = It's fallen out of favour now and it's not worth searching for. This link explains how the widget contained a backlink in its coding designed to up the Google page rank favourability of a dodgy looking loans website. One to be avoided and something to bear in mind if you're looking to add any kind of fun widget to your blog.

29 comments:

  1. Really interesting stuff there Michelle!

    Ryan

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  2. Never knew that existed - the results came up very quickly! I get Basic 53, Intermediate 47, Advanced 1 - so really I ought to be making what I am saying a bit clearer?!

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  3. Hi,

    Very interesting!

    I have a very high basic! But then I do write very little in my posts and it's based around photography and I have been on a writing in plain English course and am very much aware of trying to keep things accessible to most people.

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  4. Ryan - thanks :)

    Jennifer - I've found a blogpost which analysed various UK newspapers - judging by that it looks like your results are just fine :)

    Liz - I've always found your blog posts an easy read :)

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  5. My gardening for wildlife blog comes in at 95% basic, 5% intermediate and a smidgeon of Advanced as a garnish ;~)

    The information is fascinating and you have a gift for teaching us and sharing (full marks for the basic in that case!)

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  6. EE - thanks. I'm enjoying using some of my daily NaBloPoMo posts this month to share some of the things I learned at BlogCamp and on the web writing course :)

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  7. Interesting! Mine is 92% basic. I remember when I was doing my journalism training we were told our main competition (even as a provincial weekly) was the Sun. We had a sign in the newsroom which said 'bigger pictures, fewer words' and I've always tried to apply that to my blog.

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  8. Really interesting!! Mine came up as 86% basic, which previously I might have seen as a bit insulting - but now I'm feeling quite chuffed about! Thanks for drawing my attention to the tool.

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  9. Blimey, really interesting. Always thought I was writing in very plain english and understandable terms, but I got Basic 42, Intermediate 50 and Advanced 9. Certainly makes you question how you reach your readers.....Many thanks for thought provoking post. Naomi

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  10. Fascinating - thanks so much for that! Mine came up as 86 per cent Basic and 14 per cent Intermediate, which is a bit of a relief, as very occasionally I get comments (usually from Americans) saying my posts are too verbose.
    However, I suspect it's not how much one writes, but which words one uses. So, people like me, who are not very science-literate and might not use many technical terms, may well score better on the Basic level.
    I think as a general rule, however - certainly in journalism - it is better to try to use what an old colleague of mine calls "tuppenny-ha'penny" words.
    Then you know you are going to be able to communicate with the biggest number of potential readers.

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  11. PS: I remember doing a news feature on truancy yonks ago, and the headmaster of a comprehensive in Newcastle told me the average level of education in the UK was a U (ie fail) at GCSE

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  12. Thanks I've learned something new and glad to say I'm following the 80/20 rule with my blog!

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  13. Oh dear I'm not sure if I like my results 97% basic and 3% intermediate. Does that make me a 'thicko'. I just thought I was writing in a 'chatty' style does that mean I have to posh it up a bit, use longer words or ramble on a bit more. Help!

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  14. PM - interesting comment thank you. I've been working on the 'bigger pictures' on here lately, but still need to do a lot of work on 'fewer words' ;)

    TCG - welcome! Since going on this course I've changed my attitude to 'dumbing down' because it actually means more effective and inclusive communication.

    Naomi - thank you for tweeting this as well. Looking at the newspaper link I gave above, you're doing OK. Glad this has made you thing though :)

    Victoria - this isn't about verbosity, but how clear all those words are. I like the sound of your general rule and it looks like you're applying it very effectively :)

    Damo - great!

    Elaine - oh no you're not a thicko, it just means you're writing in a way the majority of people can understand. Much better than I am in fact!

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  15. Good stuff Michelle. The first bit of your post did not surprise me as I read similar snippets when I was still working. I had to write action plans for young people of all levels of ability, so used to spend a long time thinking about whether the language was appropriate for the individual. Harder though to gauge what language to use when you do not know the audience. My blog came out with 85% basic, 14% intermediate and 1% advanced so in the words of many a report "could do better".

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  16. Just seen The Independent's score on your link. LOL!

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  17. Good thoughts. Writing for your audience is what's most important and that doesn't always meen dumbing down - but as general rule keeping it simple, in bite sized chunks and in clear order is good start.

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  18. Interesting, and tricky to balance the desire to be clear (lots of basic presumably) with the desire to write well and vividly. I suspect you have to know your audience and it may be that most of us commenting here are not Sun readers! My scores are pretty much identical to Victoria's so that must be a good thing!

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  19. hmmm mine says :


    Results by reading level for zoelynch.co.uk:
    Basic 62%
    Intermediate 36%
    Advanced 2%

    When I checked in the past on the Fog Index it was 8.86 which was the reading level of roughly a popular novel.

    Interesting information. I suppose you can adjust it on whether you want to attract lots of readers, or as I do in my case - write the way I actually think most the time, which may reduce my audience, but I hope gives me an audience that is actually interested enough to read what I say without having to dumb down too much.

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  20. Anna - it sounds like you're doing pretty well with that score :)

    Victoria - I wondered if you'd sneak a peek ;)

    Mark - sound advice, thanks :)

    Elizabeth - I think there's scope to write vividly and still be clear. It'd be interesting to see how some of our favourite writers fared with this measure. We also read the web and newspapers in a different way to books and novels. The former tend to be skim read, so clarity is much more important with these media.

    Zoe - it's really interesting how we're discussing how this might affect writing style, 'voice' and audience isn't it? Many blogs are a personal record first and foremost, so that informs the way posts are written.

    Thanks for the reminder re the Fog Index. After reading the wikipedia link, people may prefer to use this instead, so here's a link to a website for people find their own score for a post.

    NB A score below 12 means the text is readable by a wide audience. If near universal understanding is needed, then aim for a score below 8.

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  21. Interesting stuff - I dont like blogs which use too much complex language or try to be clever. All a little pretentious

    However mine has come up with 43% basic and 53% intermediate and 4% advanced so maybe I am guilty of what I dont like but then again I write for me so dont plan to change

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  22. If you click on 'Advanced' it shows you which posts fall under that category. When I did that with mine, none of them were from my blog!

    So that's alright then...

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  23. PG - it's your blog, so it's up to you :)

    Amanda - hmmm, interesting. Perhaps the Fog Index is the way to go after all

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  24. I'm a bit late to the party, but I go Basic 63%, Intermediate 36% and Advanced 2% for my blog. If you look at the website as a whole then it's weighted far more strongly in the Intermediate category, which I guess is fine :) Fascinating stuff!

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  25. Totally fascinating VP
    (Sorry playing catch up here)
    FYI
    Basic 63% Intermediate 35% Advanced 1% and my Fog INdex, 9.73 will it change anything about the way I write my blog - no because I dont say much - like Liz, its all about the images. But it is reassuring to know that generally I can be understood :)
    K

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  26. Emma - it is fascinating and thanks for having a look in more depth and telling me about it :)

    Karen - I think that's coming over loud and clear. We like the way we write our posts and are communicating clearly. No need to change!

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  27. Hi

    There is also a readability tool on Word programmes.

    Here is some more information (although I am not sure how readable it is...).

    Yes, indeed, I agree the Sun is a great example of readability. So is the Daily Mirror (which I prefer).

    Note both publications use short paragraphs - with one to two sentences only.

    Which I think is essential.

    Especially when writing on the web.

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  28. Hi, again.

    Re your comment on Do bloggers need a union?

    Simon Chapman of the National Union of Journalists has replied.

    Elisabeth

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  29. Elisabeth - thanks for the info, I must do a follow up post to include yours and Zoe's extra information. Your comment is a model of what writing for the web should be too :)

    Thanks for coming back and telling me about Simon's reply to. I'll follow it up soon...

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