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 formulas.com (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.