#WOL Working Out Loud: Readability and Reading Levels

Check Reading Levels

I’m sure you’re thinking: reading level? Why do I have to pay attention to that? And, isn’t it obvious that people need to be able to read to work here? Well, y’all there is more to this than meets the eye. Let’s explore.

In reading through various Web resources and information I came across the following statistic on the Nielsen Norman Group’s Web site: According to U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Adult Literacy, 43% of the U.S. population has low literacy. The article goes on to say that they estimate 30% of Web users are Low Literacy readers, too. Note: Explanation of Low literacy in the link provided below. Additional links are provided at the bottom of this article, as well.

Note to self: Continue to review sources and resources. (You should, too)

Know Your Audience

Knowing our audience is true for this conversation, just as it is for the other aspects of our work. Meaning, having a basic understanding of the level of education required to do the job that you’re building content for is helpful information.

Ways This is Helpful to Many (Most)

  • English may not be some of (all of?) your employees’ first language.

  • Learning disabilities, like dyslexia, are common.

  • Raises the level of reading comprehension for everyone.

  • Our job is to remove as many barriers, as possible for people to be able to learn.

  • So-called high literacy readers scan while reading on screens, rather than reading word-for-word. In other words, scores somewhat lower than education level work for them, too.

How To Check Reading Level

To check reading scores in MS Word, click: File > Options > Proofing

Screen capture showing how to add readability statistics to Microsoft Word document review

Screen capture showing how to add readability statistics to Microsoft Word document review

When the document has finished, click: Review > Spelling & Grammar. Upon completion of the spelling and grammar checking this window appears.

Screen capture of the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level report

Screen capture of the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level report

Alternatives to this MS Word feature exist online, too. One site I’ve used, is Readability.io. It provides reading levels, as they compare to a variety of standards, and more.


  • Write in active voice. Yes, this is difficult to do. I struggle to do it. You probably will do. We need to do it anyway, especially in text heavy materials.

  • Shorten the sentences.

  • Avoid compound sentences.

  • Simplify. For example: stop using words like utilize when use works just as well.

  • Score the text only. Meaning, check the reading score without tables or other features in place. Do this either by highlighting the text, then kicking off the grammar checker. Or, copying and pasting text passes into another tool (like Readability.io).

Resources & Links


Link to NAAL Web site

Link to Readable Web site

Microsoft Tutorial