Quality Writing: Do Flesch-Kincaid Tests Matter?

A point of contention sometimes makes itself known when writing an article: do you write content honed towards manipulating the SEO over-bearers, increasing the chances that it will be discovered; or do you write well written content that risks being buried, never to be seen? The two choices unfortunately rarely coincide. With the popularity of Buzzfeed and its clones, it’s not too surprising either.

SEO-friendly content consists of short, stubby sentences that will be picked up by search engine behemoths trawling the web. The content is then given a readability score by a variety of tests, such as the Flesch-Kincaid tests. The easier the readability, the higher the score (and the higher the content appears in search results).

What are the Flesch-Kincaid tests?

The Flesch-Kincaid tests are two examples of readability tests. Their aim is to define the readability of a piece of text based on its sentence length, word length and number of syllables. It determines just how complicated and difficult a piece of text is to read. Generally, you do not want to write content that is too sophisticated for your readers.

Raise the readability score

Using the different formulas it can be relatively clear using shorter sentences composed of shorter words will attain a higher readability score.

“Utterly famished, he contemplated the possibilities of concocting an excellent potage”
— Score: 11.1

“Hungry, he thought about making soup”
— Score: 73.8

These sentences use completely different language but convey the same meaning. The important highlight is that writing style will change the readability score but not necessarily the quality of writing.

Should I use Flesch-Kincaid to judge my writing?

The reality is that writing for a high readability score was never really a point of contention. You may be ushered towards a more SEO-friendly writing style in more professional (read:hierarchical) situations but it is not necessarily a measure of how coherent, intelligent, correct, etc. your writing is.

The Flesch-Kincaid tests deliver a readability score that corresponds to age or school level, the important ages to take into account are 15 and younger along with their corresponding schooling level for the majority of people. Put simply, you do not need to adhere to a readability score to have writing of higher quality, different writing styles simply serve different purposes.

Simply write what you would love to read. That’s it.

Mark Rubinstein

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  1. Nik

    I’m all for accessibility across various reading levels, but it would certainly be a shame to see the intricacy of all writing on the internet take a nose dive based on this notion of prioritising discovery.

    Perhaps those who write with a degree of sophistication should adopt the habit of outputting their articles twice?

    “Once for machines; twice for humans.”

    It could be the pre-Skynet era mantra for future online authors.

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