Too much eLearning content reads like a high school history textbook or governmental documentation. Dry facts, and lethargic text that’s as stimulating as a technical manual.

In this article, I’m going to convince you that none of your eLearning needs to be like this. The key is something many of you may not have heard of – readability statistics. I’ll discuss how to use it to your advantage. Wait … don’t run away. Just because I said statistics doesn’t mean you have to do any math! Microsoft Word does it all for you.

The readability statistics I'm talking about give your text a score that helps you understand the effort it takes your learner to understand your content. Better readability means it requires less effort to read. And I really like this further explanation of readability (from Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall’s 1949 definition on page 3 of They say that readability involves “the successes (people) have with (the content) ... the extent to which they understand it, read it at an optimal speed, and find it interesting.”

There are a number of readability statistics, such as McLaughlin's SMOG, Gunning Fog Index, and Flesch Reading Ease. We’ll be dealing with the Flesch Reading Ease statistic because that’s what MS Word calculates.

But before we use the Flesch Reading Ease statistic, let’s look at two different examples of office ergonomics content to see if you can guess which has a higher (better) Flesch Reading Ease score.

Figure 1. Ergonomics content, example 1


Figure 2. Ergonomics content, example 2


One of these examples has a significantly higher Flesch Reading Ease score. Even though you don’t yet know much about the Flesch Reading Ease score, given the definition of “readability” earlier in this article (less effort to read), which example do you think is more readable? Look them over. I’ll wait.

And the winner is …

Example 2 is much more readable than example 1. Example 1 has 177 words and a Flesch Reading Ease score of 40, which is in the “Difficult” range. Example 2 has 174 words and a Flesch Reading Ease score of 84.2, which is in the “Easy” range. Example 1 is more difficult to read.

Flesch Reading Ease

Readability statistics measure text features that are subject to mathematical calculations such as number of syllables and sentence length. Not all features that promote readability are measurable mathematically, so readability statistics are only predictors of readability but are not the entire story. For example, these statistics cannot tell if we presented the ideas clearly, since complex words and long sentences can obscure clarity.

In the Flesch Reading Ease score, higher scores indicate material that is easier to read and lower numbers indicate material that is harder to read. The Flesch Reading Ease score maps to the readability levels shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Flesch Reading Ease Categories
Score Level


Very Difficult




Fairly Difficult




Fairly Easy






Very Easy

In case you’re interested (I don’t want to disappoint the three people like me who like math!), the formula for the Flesch Reading Ease score is:

206.835 – (1.015 x ASL) – (84.6 x ASW)


ASL = average sentence length (the number of words divided by the number of sentences)

ASW = average number of syllables per word (the number of syllables divided by the number of words)

Popular magazines tend to have higher Flesch Reading Ease scores (Table 2), and research indicates that popularity is correlated with higher readability scores. What should your eLearning readability scores be? Well, that depends on your audience, of course. But in general, at they should be least in the 50s, and preferably higher. Training itself requires a great deal of mental effort, so we don’t want to make it even harder by reducing readability.

Table 2: Flesch Reading Ease Scores of various publications
Publication Flesch Reading Ease score

Reader’s Digest


Time Magazine


Harvard Law Review


Typical HIPAA notices


Computing Flesch Reading Ease Scores Using MS Word

Here’s how to set up Flesch Reading Ease statistics for use in MS Word 2010. If you’re using another version, you may need to use Help to tweak these instructions for your version of Word.

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
  4. Select Show readability statistics (Flesch Reading Ease).
  5. Click OK.

Once you setup this feature, here’s how to get your readability score for a given document.

  1. Go to the Review tab and click Spelling and Grammar.
  2. When Word finishes checking the spelling and grammar of your document, it displays the readability score along with other information (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Readability Statistics for this article

Make sure that you are measuring a large chunk of content, as smaller chunks will give you unreliable results. Also make sure to check both on-screen text, downloadable content (such as handouts), and narration scripts. Sadly, a lot of narration scripts sound like someone wrote them for technical manuals. Blech.

You can also use this Website to compute readability scores:

If you have additional any thoughts on this article, feel free to add them to the comments section.