Improve Your Writing with The Flesch-Kincaid Readability Tests

Improve your writing by using the Flesch–Kincaid readability tests. I forgot Microsoft Word has these tests built in.

Rudolph Flesch was a pioneer in the plain English movement. He devised a formula  to gauge its readability in writing. Essentially, the higher score the better.

According to Wikipedia (external link) Reader’s Digest magazine has a readability index of about 65, Time magazine scores about 52, and the Harvard Law Review has a general readability score in the low 30s.

To make it even clearer, this site, Readability (external link), provides this guidance:

90-100 : Very Easy
80-89 : Easy
70-79 : Fairly Easy
60-69 : Standard
50-59 : Fairly Difficult
30-49 : Difficult
0-29 : Very Confusing

My last two newspaper articles came in at 66.8 and 65.4. On track. My turquoise article for Rock&Gem, (internal link) however, trudged in at 57.8. I should have broken up more sentences to make it easier to read. But, again, I had forgotten about the readability index.

Update: May 30, 2016: My Rock&Gem magazine article on Gemfield, Nevada (internal link) scored a 64.2. And the latest article I submitted to them (internal link) came in at a 69, easier to read than the Reader’s Digest. I am getting better.

For contrast, the articles I edit for my Vancouver employer often come in at 48, leaden prose that requires a 12th grade education. Most of these pieces, though, are constructed for SEO purposes and not necessarily for a human reader.

I use Microsoft Office with the latest version of Word. To enable the tests, open Word and choose “Preferences”. Then go to “Spelling and Grammar” and check the “Readability Statistics Box”.

Statistics will now show up after you check a document for grammar or spelling. Open a file,  choose “Tools”, then select “Spelling and Grammar”. After you’ve checked the document the scores will be at the bottom.

There are also websites that will check your writing if you don’t use Word. I find a numerical score easy to relate to, something that confirms my suspicions that a piece is running too long and needs to be edited down.





How do I Develop My Own Writing Style?

Your writing style develops naturally out of your experiences and preferences. I’m not sure you can use more adjectives, metaphors, or quotations than you would normally would without sounding pretentious or affected. Tom Robbins’ writing went off in spectacular tangents but that doesn’t mean your use will result in the same fireworks. And what are you writing about anyway?

You will obviously have more liberty to personalize with fiction. And if you have a large word count. Style must change with your audience: your editor and your readers. My newspaper article style is for a home-town weekly with a five hundred word limit. That’s not a large sandbox to play in. My magazine article style is more relaxed but still focused. Vigorous writing, no matter how many times we fail to do it, is always the goal. And the one writer who always wrote that way was George Orwell.

George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (external link) remains, I think, the most important essay on thinking and writing well. A product of wartime Britain, it is not the easiest essay to read. Several years ago I put together an annotated version with my references to the many now obscure people and places that Orwell referenced. It’s at the link above and at other places.

Will you be able to write like Orwell if you follow his rules? Of course not. He was gifted and had a supreme dedication to his craft. His first novel, Down and Out in Paris and London, remains an accomplishment most of us could never achieve even with forty years of trying. Still, I think you will develop a workmanlike style if you practice what he preaches. And a workmanlike style, something that does not offend but informs, is a good style indeed.





Newspaper article

A Historic Firehouse Reborn

My article on the renovation and reuse of the historic firehouse in the Washington District of West Sacramento is out.

A Historic Firehouse Reborn

Writing by Thomas Farley

The old Washington District firehouse at 317 Third Street is being reborn as a bar and a restaurant. The once neglected landmark sits at the foot of the I Street Bridge, its renewal just part of the larger revitalizing Bridge District. The News-Ledger reached out to Bay Miry with D&S Development who answered several questions about the pioneering urban project.

What attracted you to this venture?

Our team has a passion for the rehab of historic buildings. We have always had our eye on the Washington Firehouse building and the historic Washington/Broderick area in general. The building has great charm and character both on the interior and exterior and we are working with full force to bring it to life. A number of events are all coming together to help align the starts for that specific area to become the next “hot” urban hub including: the improved economy, the influx of housing, the addition of tenants like “Edible Pedal” in our historic strip center across the street, and planned infrastructure improvements in the near future including replacement of the I St Bridge so that it leads directly into the Railyards redevelopment.

Have you changed the original design which called for a live/work space on the second floor?

Yes. The upstairs area will instead include a second bar area and second expansive outdoor patio and we envision it will be used as a private dining space for special events and catering. One thing we heard loud and clear from the community and city staff is the need for both a neighborhood friendly restaurant as well as a special events space in that area.

Has the West Sacramento Historical Society been consulted?

Yes, we have indeed engaged them to share our plans and get feedback on our intentions and specifically on how we envision bringing the building back to life and magnifying its existing charms. We are working to incorporate the historical society’s historic fire truck, the “Old Mary”, into the space planning. We also are working with the society on obtaining photos and history that we can showcase in the space as a way to pay homage to the history of both the surrounding area and the building itself.

Estimated time of completion?

We hope to both complete construction and have an operator in place and open for business by the end of the year, if not sooner. Construction continues to move along smoothly. There was the addition of a new building on the rear of the historic building and we are working through all structural rehab and rough work right now.

Any inquiries from potential users?

About a half dozen legitimate inquiries but we are being pretty picky about who we ultimately select for the building; we want to make sure we have an experienced operator in there that is providing the community with quality food and service.

Anything else a West Sacramento resident should know?

The rehab of historic buildings is important to our team. These “gems” should be showcased and brought back to life whenever possible. What makes this project even more exciting at least for us is the positive impact it will have on the surrounding community and that it happens to be occurring at the same time as other key factors that together will bring exciting urban activity and energy to that immediate area. A lot of folks have expressed their excitement that something is being done with this building and that they appreciate the fact that there are real things for them to look forward to as far as that area is concerned in the immediate future.


















Rendering image courtesy of D&S Development. (external link)

3D View 1 (1)


The Changing Selection at Grocery Store Magazine Racks

Have you noticed the change at grocery store magazine racks? Regular magazines are being replaced with special editions that are undated and can be sold for months at a time. What started, perhaps, with Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition, is now evolving into special editions featuring Elvis, John Wayne, and Bigfoot. Those three, incidentally, produced by Newsweek! Click here to vastly enlarge the photo.

While commemorative editions have always been with us: the Kennedy Assassination, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, Sandyhook, perhaps, these high priced special editions are not so ephemeral and fleeting. Lacking time-sensitive content, they can linger forever on the shelf, displacing other periodicals and even other publications put out by the same house.

I may not be able to find January’s National Geographic or Nat Geo’s Traveler, but I can find a National Geographic special edition on the brain or the universe. These special editions conspire to give us less selection at the rack, fewer magazines to choose from. Not a good trend, unless you want to pay $10 for a special edition on The Duke that says he liked to play chess.

01/09/2017 Update: They’re called a bookazine! It’s a real thing. Read up on these book/magazine combinations at this link (external link).





Newspaper article

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

This article ran in the January 6th edition of the West Sacramento New-Ledger. (external link) Their site will be updated soon, until then, it appears here.

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

by Thomas Farley

Carol Richardson retired last September after 28 ½ years as West Sacramento’s Assistant City Manager. She started in 1987 when West Sacramento was incorporated, folding into single governance the towns of, Broderick, Bryte, Washington, and Southport. She reflected on her career for the News-Ledger.

Richardson was hired by Gene Roh who was the first City Manager. Did the job description actually match the job? “There was no job description! We were putting together a city organization and that was part of it. In those early days we all did what had to be done to get the job done. I really had no idea what I was getting in to. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun.” Carol would eventually work for four City Managers. “They all were unique in their management style but very competent. The City Councils had an uncanny ability to pick the right City Manager for the times facing the City. I was fortunate that all of the Managers gave me a chance. That is not always the case.”

Along the way there were numerous memories and milestones. Like that day in December, 1999 when she picked up the phone. “I just got home from City Manager Joe Goeden’s Christmas party and he called. He said there was flooding at City Hall on Stone Boulevard and he needed me early the next morning. I had no idea it was as bad as it was. Someone had turned on the fire hose on the 3rd floor and let it run. The building and everything in it was trashed. Luckily, Joe called the IT Manager Drew Gidlof that night and he went in and removed the servers and hardware. Asbestos complicated the recovery. We fully intended to move back in initially but various circumstances led us to stay in our temporary quarters until the new City Hall on West Capitol was built. Our improvised Council Chambers was in the center of the room with a makeshift dais. The offices and cubicles were all around. It was one of those disasters that brought everyone together and had a happy ending.”

As with any City, there were always contentious issues. The casino planned for the area IKEA now occupies was one. “The Councils were very committed to that area being a retail center. Prior to the casino there was a push to rezone the area for offices as some thought retail was a pie in the sky dream. The Council at that time resisted in spite of a lot of pressure from some. They stuck to their vision and it paid off.”

The Rivercats entry into West Sacramento was equally challenging. “Those were difficult times. So much was on the line for everyone involved. Again, while the Council wanted the team and stadium they were not going to compromise their policies and principles to get it. City Manager Joe Goeden deserves a great deal of credit.”

What were her most important personal accomplishments? “I am most proud of helping to build the City organization and helping to hire some of the great people who have worked there and some who still do. I am also proud of working with others on the Civic Center and assisting with the City’s Early Learning Team.

She says the City’s outlook is bright. “I think there will be more entertainment and restaurants in the City’s future. And the streetcar, waterfront development, and the Washington District are all coming along. So many good things are coming to West Sacramento.”

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson pictured here with the four City Managers she worked with. (L-R) Martin Tuttle, Toby Ross, Joe Goeden, and Gene Roh. City of West Sacramento photo.



A Welcoming On-line Outlet

If you are a beginning creative and are looking for wider distribution of your prose, poetry or photographs, you might want to try AmpersandLiterary (external link). They don’t pay but they offer a way to feature your content beyond the reach of your blog or website. I doubt they take everything submitted but the site seems friendly and worth checking out.


Newspaper article

West Sacramento’s Role in Coming Elections

This article appeared in the January 6, 2016 issue of the West Sacramento News-Ledger (external link). It appears here until their website features the piece.

All Politics are Local: West Sacramento’s Role in Coming Elections

by Thomas Farley:

California’s primary and general elections are six months and eleven months away, respectively, but political parties are busy preparing for these upcoming votes. The News-Ledger reports on three parties’ arrangements and how West Sacramento may be impacted.

Robin Olson, Director of Communications for the Yolo GOP, commented on the effects a potential Republican administration may have on West Sacramento. Olson says that “Republicans generally champion free trade, which would increase activity and jobs at the Port of West Sacramento. Democrats have become a little more reluctant with free trade recently, moving away from the days of Bill Clinton signing NAFTA 20 years ago. A rich agricultural region like Yolo County also is going to be selling a lot of crops abroad, either directly or indirectly. Again, more demand and more jobs.”

Olson says, however, that Republican presidential campaign activities may largely bypass our area. “Unfortunately, since California has a late June primary, the candidates have very limited operations in Yolo County. They know that with the way the system works, there are many states with earlier contests that must be a priority — like Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and so on. Mostly candidates come by on occasion to fundraise, like Marco Rubio did in early December. But, if the primary is still undecided around March, then activists will definitely become much more organized.”

Bob Schelen, Chair of the Yolo County Democratic Party, weighs in on the role of West Sacramento from their local and organizational viewpoint. “Every four years, the Yolo County Democratic Party has its members elected from Supervisorial districts with others being appointed by elected officials. For 2016, we are well represented in West Sacramento with ten of our members residing in the City. That is just under one-third of our full membership. Members from West Sacramento include City Council member Mark Mark Johannessen, School Board Member Norma Alcala and long time activist and City Commissioner Martha Guerrerro, among others.”

“West Sacramento always plays an important role as part of developing a winning strategy in Yolo County. It is important for us to work to get out as much of the Democratic vote as possible in Yolo County. It is difficult to say what a Clinton or Sanders Administration will mean to West Sacramento, Yolo County and the greater Sacramento region as we have fared well under the Obama Administration.”

Debra Reiger, State Chair of the Peace and Freedom Party of California, says they will run a candidate for President. “Our nominating convention will be in August, so I don’t know at this time who our nominee will be. We have had quite a few inquiries from potential candidates, and so far have one serious candidate, Gloria La Riva, who will definitely appear on our primary ballot and at the convention.” Reiger notes they have seven seats available for a county central committee in Yolo, and some current activists, mainly in the Woodland area. They expect an active county central committee by early summer.

The News-Ledger will report on the activities of the Libertarian, Green, and American Independent Party at a future date.




I’m a Little Busy At The Moment

I’m working on a newspaper article, a query letter to a national travel magazine, work for my Vancouver employer, and I’m putting back together (external link).

Among all those tasks, redoing the website is by far the most time consuming. I’m beset by technical glitches that keep me from rolling quickly ahead.

WordPress, though, is fascinating technology. I can try out a variety of looks or themes for the website without breaking the pages I construct. Usually. Getting four hundred pages together, though, is going to be slow and somewhat painful. I welcome you to check the site from time to time to see how I’m doing.


The Tyranny of Link Rot

As I prepare to resurrect, I am faced with my old nemesis: link rot. Links can be positive. External links help readers and they make a site more authoritative. Just as footnotes add credibility to the printed page, so do well chosen links. But some studies show 25% to 30% of external links die every year, as pages are pulled or changed. My experience in 11 years of running private bore out that statistic. What to do?

There are software programs that will scan your site to show you what links have broken. Those programs, though, will not fix dead links. That must be done manually. Off you go with each broken link, hoping to find a new page that replaces the old one. If one exists at all. private had hundreds and hundreds of external links over its 400+ pages and by 2006 I was done trying to repair them. It was a big reason I sold the site.

The problem is still rampant in 2016. This page gives an excellent presentation (external link) of the dilemma and offers ways to help reduce the number of dead links before you link over. The only partial solution I found was to archive vital material. That meant downloading and storing .pdfs, images, and entire pages in case a link broke. I could then restore the resource as an internal link. This is impractical for an entire site but manageable for crucial information.

One question that goes begging is that of copyright. Can you use someone else’s material, even if they have pulled it off the web? The short answer is probably not. You could ask permission but I have found that a dead end. No one replies. My response back then was to post the information, saying that a copyright holder could have it removed if requested. I think I got one request. No one seemed to care, anymore than they did in removing the information to begin with.

As I put the site back together I will put in far fewer external links. I may have the URL noted, but in static form like this: [ — accessed January, 2016.] Using Alexa or the Wayback Machine might permit a reader to find the page many years from now. But I myself will be spending less time documenting in the future.



I’ve Reacquired

Thanks to the generosity of Ken Schmidt of,(external link), I have taken back the domain was originally designed in 1995 as a complement to my hardcopy magazine about the telephone system private line. Over time the site grew to be a telecommunications writing hub, at one point spanning 400+ pages and in 2002 getting two million hits.

Those days are long past and I won’t bore you now with stories of text browsers, e-mail responders, or going to Def Con when it was new. Just know that I intend to bring the domain into the modern era, as a WordPress site that can be easily maintained. I’ll put the history content back up first, as I clear the dead links that have accumulated over years of being an archive.

Always something more to do.