What is Readability?
The term “readability” refers to how easy it is to read and understand written text. Every single written document— webpages, blog posts, textbooks, rental leases, posters, even your emails — can be given a readability score. This score translates into an estimated grade level you'd need to understand that particular piece of text.
For instance, this article gets a readability score of 9.8. You’ll need at least a 9th grade education to easily understand it.
So readability is a pretty simple concept in theory. But it quickly gets more complex when you put it into practice.
There are many formulas used to calculate readability scores. Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level and Gunning-Fog are two of the most well-known readability formulas. No matter which formula you use, they all make assumptions on what counts as a hard word or long sentence. Easy and hard are relative terms, and sometimes you just can’t avoid using a difficult word. For instance, “university", “application” and “financial aid” are words and phrases that we need to use on the WSU website.
These formulas also assume that everyone has learned a certain vocabulary and sentence structure by each grade level. However, the quality of education varies from school to school and many high school seniors don’t read well at a 12th grade level.
Why is Readability Important?
People like content that is easy to read and doesn’t take a lot of brain power to understand. For people who struggle with reading, this can mean the difference between learning important information or missing the point entirely. Plain writing means communicating more effectively with people who are not native English speakers, have learning disabilities or fewer years of education.
Even people who are confident readers with advanced degrees prefer content written for easier reading levels. It simply takes less time to time and energy to read plain writing. People are busy, and their attention is pulled a million different ways. They don't want to decipher complicated sentences unless the information is really valuable. And you don't want them to lose interest before you can get your message across.
Last but not least, readability is also one of the criteria for an accessible website. To meet accessibility standards, web content must score at 7th-9th grade reading level.
How the Web Team Ensures a Readable Website
Making improvements on readability levels will require collaboration between departments and the Web Team.
As new website are developed, the Web Team will score the content before the website is published. We may recommend revisions to bring the text into the required 7-9th grade range.
We will also work to improve content on existing websites, starting with top-level websites that have the most need. Your web representative will reach out before any changes are made to your department website.
It will be a long process, but improving readability will be worthwhile in the end. A readable website is a more usable website that communicates better with our audiences.