December 14, 2014

Grade Level

When you write for young children, you should aim to keep the reading level age-appropriate.  In other words, if you are writing for ages 8 and 9, the readability should be for grades 3 - 4.   But what you have written an article intended for third-graders and an editor tells you that your piece is too advanced?  How can you measure the reading level so that you can edit it for the appropriate grade?

Here's when the Flesch-Kincaid grade level tool comes in handy. If you use Microsoft Word to spell-check your manuscript, you can choose to display readability statistics such as Flesch-Kincaid.  This tool was created to indicate comprehension difficulty when reading a passage.  The Flesch-Kincaid tool indexes readability by employing a formula that results with a number that corresponds with a U.S. grade level.  

Writers should become familiar with Flesch-Kincaid and use it as a guide to judge grade level.  I am not sure how many writers know about this tool, or know about it and forget to use it.  But if an editor points out that the reading level of your article is too high for the intended audience, you will need to find a way to lower it.  And this is where Flesch-Kincaid can help. 

In order to succeed in lowering readability, you cannot rush the process.  You should not hurriedly shorten a few sentences and cut some words here and there, and send it back to the editor with the message:  “Here you go.”  (I’m not kidding. I have seen this quite often.)  When you return an article to an editor in a day, it looks like you haven’t spent the time it takes to edit properly.  In fact, it almost shows that you don’t care enough about your work.  

My advice would be to work on the revision over several days, put it on the back burner for a few days, and return to it with fresh eyes.  Then take a look at the length of your sentences.  Turn the compound sentences into simple sentences.  Balance the number of simple sentences so that the work does not sound choppy.  Include some complex sentences, those that have an independent clause and a dependent clause.  Next, scrutinize each word.  Reduce the number of multisyllabic words.  Use a thesaurus to find grade-suitable words. 

You may find that you will need to repeat this process many times to gradually lower the grade level.  It's challenging, but doable.  And it's worth it. Before long, you will have created an age-appropriate piece and made an editor happy by giving her what she has requested.  

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