Can you write for a 5th grader?

Remember that show? Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

I never saw it. Or, maybe I did, once or twice. By accident. I swear.

I figured, I am smarter than a 5th grader, of course, so why would I even ask myself that question? Why would I even watch that program? Obviously, I am not that show’s target audience.

Woe to me when I did catch the show and realized I’m not as up on geography, chemistry, and literature as I thought I was…

Anyway, it seems that I don’t write better than a 5th grader either.

Last week over on Daily Writing Tips, Mr. Mark Nichol wrote about the reading level of our writing. He stressed that the key is to write at the level your target audience is comfortable with. I assumed that my target audience consists of folks like me: graduates to post-graduates with a taste for adventure in their literature. Consequently, I guessed that my writing level was somewhere on the collegiate level.

I wanted to confirm my lofty assumptions so I went to the Readability Index Calculator that Mr. Nichol’s provided.

Yikes!

My last few posts consistently scored between the 6th and 9th grade levels! Are my blog posts attracting a younger audience than I had intended? Here’s a sample of my score and what it means:

Result

Method used: Flesch-Kincaid (English).

Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 9.
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score: 49.

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score indicates how easy a text is to read. A high score implies an easy text. In comparison comics typically score around 90 while legalese can get a score below 10.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade level indicates the grade a person will have to have reached to be able to understand the text. E.g. a grade level of 7 means that a seventh grader will be able to understand the text.

Well, I guess the best I could say about my readability scores is that I’m not excluding anyone! But it does make me wonder whether writing in a more conversation, laid back style (in a desperate attempt to make you like me) may dissuade folks looking for a more challenging read to stick around?

Do you worry about your blog’s readability? Should I?

At the moment, I have far more on my plate to add worrying about whether I am erudite enough on this blog or not. For better or worse, I am (barely) smarter than a 5th grader.

This is a Monday Minutes post so I can’t leave you with just one topic to ponder, but at least two.

Fantasy Faction recently announced a new experiment they are conducting: a collaborative story. Actually, collaborate stories written in forum threads is not that new. Many have been done in the past on lots of writing forums (including SFFWorld.com). The difference with Fantasy Faction’s effort is that they hope to publish the result. Okay. that’s been done before, too. I suppose what makes this exciting is that if you failed to make the cut into their upcoming anthology (still accepting submissions, by the way), you have another chance through this collaborative story effort.

Until next time, write better than a 5th grader.

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9 thoughts on “Can you write for a 5th grader?

  1. Another point of view? Much “difficult” writing isn’t necessarily sophisticated, it’s specialized. Technical writing, academic writing, medical writing. It’s aimed at a specific audience who understands the language.

    Fiction writers, on the other hand, are better served (if they want a wide audience) by increasing their ease of reading score. Don’t think for a second that means dumbing down the language. e.b. white and A. A. Milne both wrote for children, but their prose is masterful and sophisticated, their concepts high. It takes tremendous skill to use mere words to deliver complex images and ideas. It takes even more skill to do so in a way that even a fifth grader can ‘get it.’

    1. I actually thought about that, but then it didn’t go with my self-depreciating tone so I promptly ignored it. 😉

      But you are right. It got me thinking about books like The Road. I don’t have a copy in front of me, but I remember the prose being deceptively simple. I will have to go back and review Cormac’s style.

  2. Yup. I just tried it with an essay I wrote recently and got 13th grade and 30 readability ease. Tried it with a blog post and got 9th grade, another 7th grade. It depends what you’re writing…

    1. Yeah, I was tempted to put in some samples from my book, but I was afraid what it would say. If it was a ‘high’ score (easy readability), does that mean I hit my target for a general audience? Or does it mean that all my sentences are simply constructed? What if its a low score (hard readability)? Does that mean my sentences are convoluted? Best to just walk away…

  3. I think it would be interesting to know what sort of scores come out of content you find yourself *reading* 🙂
    I think many authors you read and like may have higher readability (and lower grade level) than you would expect.
    Personally I wouldn’t stress on it too much.

  4. The results of this test seem to suggest that highly educated people will only read a piece of fiction if most of the words have four or more syllables. That is a seriously flawed argument that confuses complexity of content with complexity of prose.

    I can think of many great books that had complex ideas completely unsuitable for a younger audience but was written with excellent flow and clarity of communication. Kim Stanley Robinson is a superb example of this style as a fiction writer. On the non-fiction side, Richard Dawkins manages this perfectly. Can we accuse either of dumbing down the science?

    1. Right! I must think sensibly about these things. It was just kind of disheartening to see those scores…suitable for a 6th grader! 😉

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