Word Counter Reading Level Feature

Word Counter reading level tool
One of the tracking features Word Counter provides in the “Details” section on the right side of the tool is a Reading Level. Of all the metrics the tool keeps track of, this is probably the one we receive the most questions about. With that in mind, we felt it would be beneficial to try to explain in a little bit more detail how this metric works and what exactly it means.

First and foremost, Reading Level isn’t a reflection of your writing skill in any way. You may have excellent writing which ranks at a fourth-grade reading level, while you may have substandard writing which ranks at the college reading level. There seems to be an assumption by many that a higher Reading Level rank means the writing is better. That is, a Reading Level at a college level is better writing than a Reading Level at a tenth-grade level. This is not what this metric is measuring.

The only thing the Reading Level tries to do is give an indicator of the education level a person would need to have in order to understand the words you’re using in your writing. It’s not meant to be a ranking of your writing ability in any way. It’s simply a general guideline so you can anticipate what education level a person would need to have to understand what you have written.

WordCounter assesses Reading Level by using the Dale–Chall readability formula. This formula uses 3,000 common words a fourth grader should understand as its foundation. Basically, if you use only the words found in the list of 3,000 words when you write, your Reading Level rank will be at a fourth-grade level. As you use more words which are not on the list of 3,000 words, the Reading Level will increase. The more words you use that fall outside the core 3,000-word list, the higher level of reading the Reading Level feature will assign to your writing.

When you first begin to type in the text area, Reading Level will display as N/A. In order for a Reading Level to appear, you will need to write a minimum of two sentences. The number of sentences is part of the formula used, and the more sentences in the writing, the more accurate the Readability Level will be. There’s a need for a two-sentence minimum to begin to make an accurate Reading Level determination.

With this in mind, when the metric shows your writing at “college level,” what it’s saying is that you’re using a significant number of words in your writing which a fourth grader won’t be familiar with. If the Reading Level says fourth-grade level, then a fourth-grader would understand the vast majority of the words you used in your writing. If the metric says a seventh-grade level, you’re using some words that a typical fourth-grader wouldn’t understand, but not as many as would be in the writing to rank the Reading Level at the college level.

Reading Level may be important for a number of reasons. If you are attempting to target your article, story or other writing to a specific audience who may be at a certain reading grade level, this metric can help make sure you’re not writing over their heads. At the same time, you may not want your writing to come across as too simplistic by using only common words elementary students would understand, and want to raise the number and variety of vocabulary in your writing to appeal to a higher educated reader.

(Photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar)

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