MS Word

Make Sense of Word's Readability Statistics

The Problem:

I know I can turn off the readability statistics by unchecking the "Show readability statistics" box on the Spelling & Grammar tab of the Options dialog box, but I think I would find them interestingif I only knew what they meant.

The Solution:

The information in the Readability Statistics dialog box (see Figure 5-11) is largely useless, but it can have a cult appeal, especially if you're trying to straighten out someone else's report.

Figure 5-11. Readability statistics provide crude metrics of how your document is composed. Trust your own judgmentor, better, that of your editor.

The readouts in the Counts areaWords, Characters, Paragraphs, and Sentencesare straightforward enough. The readouts in the Averages areaSentences per Paragraph, Words per Sentence, and Characters per Wordare simply computed from those counts. The averages can help you identify if your sentences or paragraphs are too long or your proportion of 50-cent words too high, but bear in mind that a suitable style will depend on your material and your audience. If you're writing an advanced biochemistry tract, you'll probably need all the long words you can shoehorn into your sentences.

Anyway, you're probably wondering more about the readouts in the Readability area:

  • Passive sentences are sentences that use passive verbs rather than active verbs. For example, "Jack was painted by Jane" is passive, whereas "Jane painted Jack" is active. Passive sentences are widely thoughtI mean, many experts think that passive sentences make writing less dynamic and appealing.

  • Flesch Reading Ease is a measure of the relative difficulty of reading a sentence. The scale runs from 0 (incomprehensible) to 100 (easy to understand). If a document intended for mass consumption scores below 70, it probably needs revision.

    Word XP and Word 2003 use different rules than Word 2000 to calculate Flesch Reading Ease and may produce lower scores for the same sentence than Word 2000 does.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level provides the U.S. school grade level at which a typical student would be able to read the text. For example, 7.0 represents the seventh grade. To ensure that a document is as comprehensible as possible, aim for a score around 7.0 or 8.0.

Both Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level are calculated on the average number of words per sentence and the average number of syllables per word.

Upgrade the Thesaurus

The Problem:

Word's Thesaurus feature is so lame. If it were a horse, I'd have to shoot it.

The Solution:

Get out the captive bolt, then. The only fix is to use a better thesaurus. For a quick fix, turn to the Merriam-Webster Online Thesaurus ( For a more comprehensive and local solution, check out the free WordWeb ( or the WordWeb Pro, a powerful dictionary, thesaurus, and word-finding program.