Saturday, October 21, 2006


I wasted some quality time last night playing with the readability tests at You type in a website's URI and it performs algorithms to determine how "readable" the website's content is. After analyzing sentence length and numbers of syllables per word, it spits out results for three different indices:
  • Gunning-Fog Index—A rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content. The lower the number, the more understandable the content will be to your visitors. (Start counting with kindergarten.)
  • Flesch Reading Ease—An index number that rates the text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. Authors are encouraged to aim for a score of approximately 60 to 70.
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level—Like the Gunning-Fog index, it is a rough measure of how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content (although I think this one starts at 1st grade).
I had the site analyze this blog and I learned that, amongst other things, I average 9.99 words per sentence, with 14.21% coming in at three syllables or more, for an average of 1.56 syllables per word. I scored 9.68 on the Gunning Fog Index, which is comparable with the content of Time and Newsweek. My Flesch Reading Ease result was 64.96, or right in the middle of the target range, and according to my Flesch-Kincaid Grade of 6.68, you need to be most of the way through 6th grade before you can even hope to understand my complexities. Based on some of the comments I get, however, I think there are a few readers reaching for that brass ring a little earlier.

Interestingly enough, my blog has almost the exact same metrics as the infinitely-more-popular Instapundit (with scores of 9.65, 65.79 and 6.53 respectively). Andrew Sullivan, with his Oxford education, scores a bit higher (10.36, 65.39 and 6.72). A recent Christopher Hitchens article scores a Gunning Fog Index of 11.20, which, according to the chart, is comparable to the Wall St Journal. That's fitting, since Hitchens is finding his way onto their opinion pages with increasing regularity these days.

On closer examination, the Gunning Fog chart looks a bit suspect. Newsweek articles are supposed to be equivalent to a score of 10, but when I analyzed the magazine's most recent cover story, it only rated an 8, which is the designated difficulty of Reader's Digest. Similarly, a Guardian article, which should have scored a 14, only came in at 9.77.

Other interesting things I learned from the test include the fact that the front page of Michelle Malkin's blog had, as of this writing, exactly 666 sentences. Coincidence? You be the judge.

By far the most complex and difficult blog I looked at was the right-wing behemoth Power Line. With a Gunning Fog Index score of 13.06, a Flesch Reading Ease score of 54.34 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade of 9.47, Power Line was even more complex than Noam Chomsky's blog. This is a perfect illustration of juicystudio's warning that because they simply measure things like syllables and words per sentence, "readability tests are unable to determine the likelihood that the document is comprehensible, interesting, or enjoyable."

Still, I wondered how Power Line could be more complex than the limber linguistic twists of a Hitchens article. Then it occurred to me: "Republican" has four syllables. Mystery solved.

Update: This post scored a Gunning Fog Index of 8.27, a Flesch Reading Ease of 66.27 and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade of 5.23. I must be getting clearer. Or stupider.
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