Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Readability ~ Can Your Readers Understand You?

Whether you write novels, scientific articles, literary essays, or blogs (and, perhaps it’s not too optimistic to include legal explanations…) your reader needs to understand the writing; otherwise, there’s poor commune-ication.

Yeah, I sort of misspelled the last word in that sentence but the roots of communication tell the story: “to make common”.

You may have tried various Readability Tools but I found one that gives six results from different schemes of measurement.

David Simpson, Senior Developer and Solutions Architect at AppFusions, created The Readability Test Tool that lets you enter text manually or enter a url to test a web page.

I put the first scene of my novel in (you can get a free copy in the left side-bar) and got my six scores—not bad results for automated methods :-)

And, since I like to experiment on this blog, I’ll put that scene from my book here and show the scores after it—I suppose the experiment is for you to gauge the scene’s readability for yourself and compare your impressions with the site’s results
He was ready to go but delayed slipping the bonds for a moment as he bid farewell in his mind to the daughter he’d never met. He knew his work for the Angan Corporation was critical―he was the leader of the first expedition to another World; but, Velu, his unknown daughter, would probably not know he’d done it.

“Rednaxela”, said his Artificial Intelligence unit from its space on the console, “we are fourteen seconds past the time set for slipping the magnetic bonds.”

“Yes, Morna, my dearest AI, I know; bidding farewell to folks in my mind.”

“The part of your mind I will not let myself access.”

“Yes, Morna, the only part of myself that’s still private.”

“Twenty-five seconds past bond-slipping.”

“Initiate, Morna.”

The two-mile-wide, circular ship released its invisible hold on the mooring dock and began its 2,800,000-mile voyage to the planet next out from Anga in the Angi System―planet of mystery, inhabited by people completely engrossed in religion―Anla, the destination of Rednaxela, his thoughts, and 95,000 passengers.

Morna continued verbalizing her obligatory oversight tasks: “Plasma screen active, passengers secure, orbital laser supplying thrust, tethered laser stable, light-sail stable, ship systems nominal.”

ShipOne it was called: a simple, efficient name that Rednaxela did not like. Something more was called for, some larger idea―Proteus, Primus, something; even Rugra-One, its Class name. He strode to the hatch leading to the transport tube as he said, “Morna, I’m going to check on our prize passenger.”

“Only place worth going on a ship full of criminals.”

“Settlers, Morna, settlers.”

“Yes, criminal-settlers.”

“It’s a good thing you’re my AI and not a child of the Corporate Mesh.”

“It’s a good thing we have plasma shielding from the Corporate Mesh.”

The arrangement was completely unique but absolutely necessary. The Mesh, corporate or public, operated through electronics that were capable of responding to the streams of plasma surrounding and interpenetrating Anga. The Mesh was the Corporation’s mode of communication and control and it was critical to the planet’s efficient operation. Yet, this voyage, made when Anga and Anla were closest in their orbits, had to be flown through the plasma tail that Anga streamed away from its star. The plasma tail reached to Anla and beyond and, because of the closeness of the planets, it was a tail that could clearly carry the thoughts and feelings of every passenger into the minds of the priests on Anla, priests who were expecting merely settlers, not criminals. To be more precise, they were not expecting any criminals except Akla who Rednaxela was on his way to see.

“Morna, the shielding is to keep the Anlans from—”


He’d never heard her raise her voice.

“Do please continue, my sweet AI.”

“I know why the Corporation chose you but they didn’t take enough time to analyze the results of our interaction.”

“Morna, what the hell are you talking about?”

“You are the Corporation’s ambassador but I think you could also be their worst nightmare.”

“Morna, I wish you had an off switch. Look, we’ll talk about your speculations later. I need to go perform my duty as an interrogator.”

Rednaxela stepped over the sill of the hatch but stepped right back into the bridge. He walked up to the AI’s physical form―a box of exotic, plasma-infused electronics―and said: “What do you make of the Anlans’ specifically asking for Akla?”

“He is believed by the Harians of Anga to be a Prophet and a sect on Anla called the Nari claim the same thing. The Nari have apparently been waiting for him to arrive from Anga.”

“You have a bad habit of repeating what you know I already know, Morna.”

“Sometimes I feel it necessary.”

“It’s going to take the whole voyage for me to figure you out.”

“I believe it will take longer than that.”

“Could be, but the leadership on Anla apparently hate the Nari.”


“Asking for a man their enemies worship…”

Morna laughed in his mind and said, “There are obvious reasons and not so obvious reasons. All I will say now is that you were chosen for your unique abilities and your devotion to the Corporation. I think your devotion will be severely tested and your abilities will be sharply honed. Please don’t ask me for reasons yet, I’m still processing the probabilities.”

“I’m still trying to fathom the rush to launch this mission. They could have given us more time to really get acquainted and for me to figure out how you can make deductions on information in my head that I don’t even know I have.”

“There are overriding reasons for the Corporation’s haste, mostly to do with fear. And, there are times when an individual has potentials the Corporation needs and special procedures must be devised. I am a Special Procedure.”

“That you are, Morna. Thankfully, you can still attend to the ship while you’re haunting my mind. Let’s see how our prize criminal is doing.”
Was it somewhat or extremely readable for you?

In the site’s results Green is pretty good and yellow is somewhat ok—at least there was no Red :-)

There are more detailed explanations of results on the site

Our Comment Link Is At The Top of The Post :-)
For Private Comments, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com


13 responses to “Readability ~ Can Your Readers Understand You?

  1. Angela Yuriko Smith May 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Interesting! I didn’t know there were such things as readability meters. I found it interesting the things my editor would point out – in one case I have a cloisonne vase beeing used as a weapon. She pointed out that readers that didn’t know that cloisonne is enameled metal would wonder why the vase didn’t smash when it hit the door. I would have never picked up on that.

    Editors and readability meters are awesome things since technology hasn’t advanced far enough (yet) to take the tales directly from our minds ;p but when and if that happens will we need writers anymore? We are the mediums between the world of fiction and this one… if everyone could translate we’d become obsolete.

    But…. that’s another discussion entirely. Thanks for another thought provoking post!


    • Alexander M Zoltai May 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

      Angela, what a great example with the vase!

      As far as technological readability tools, the underlying parameters are mostly based on word complexity, length, and number of syllables—perhaps “adequate” but not necessarily “sufficient”

      And, I doubt tech will ever advance to the point where human writers become unnecessary.


  2. martinaseveckepohlen May 25, 2012 at 2:19 am

    Authors of student textbooks should use such tools. I remember several occations when after reading a page I felt I knew less (!) than before. Readability in German depends mostly on sentence structure. Marc Twain wasn’t the only one to complain. Our flexible sentence structure allows sentences that only the native speaker’s intuition (Noam Chomsky) or being gifted with logic thinking can make sense of. “Literature” with a capital L often uses language that is very low on readabilty. Apparently, that’ s a sign for quality … ;-)


    • Alexander M Zoltai May 25, 2012 at 11:59 am


      Perhaps it’s only certain kinds of “literature”

      I just put the first and second scene from Macbeth into the Readability Tool and got better scores than that scene from my book :-)


      • martinaseveckepohlen May 26, 2012 at 6:20 am

        Of course it’s only certain kinds of “literature”.
        What is considered art or literature and what would come under the term paraliterature of one of your previous posts depends on cultural definitions. In Germany, even today authors are compared to Goethe and Schiller. Their language was difficult for their contemporaries and is even more so for readers today. The standard for the label “literature” is absence of readability. Only the self-styled elite is able to read real literature. According to this definition most people simply read trash.


        • Alexander M Zoltai May 26, 2012 at 9:50 am

          It’s interesting you say, “The standard for the label ‘literature’ is absence of readability.”.

          I’m pretty sure you’re giving the “accepted” “cultural” (possibly, “German”) standard, right?

          Though, if I were to accept that standard and if I had complete faith in the Readability Tool, then my writing would be more literary than Shakespeare :-)


          • martinaseveckepohlen May 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

            This is the “German” standard. What we call in “New-German” the establishment claims the right to define art and literature. I’m afraid my writing is readable, at least according to my reviewers ;-)


            • Alexander M Zoltai May 26, 2012 at 10:33 am

              Good for you, Martina :-)


  3. jacobdp May 27, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Great tool! Although very subjective I see a use for it and bookmarked it.


    • Alexander M Zoltai May 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

      Yes, Jacob, a tool derived from “objective” parameters organized in “subjective” ways :-)


  4. Barbara Blackcinder May 27, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Very interestng site. I bookmarked it just for a reference point to see if I am wandering off somehow. I mainly had good readability scores, but what I found interesting is the Grade level at which I write. I put in several different genres, and found that I stay in the same area of readership. this is whether I am writing Science Fiction, or something intended for young adults. I also haven’t change much over the years. I wonder if this is true for a lot o writers, or does it fluctuate according to what specifically they are writing at the time. While subjective, as stated above, it is very interesting for some aspects of self-study. Thank you for the link.


    • Alexander M Zoltai May 27, 2012 at 11:28 am

      Well, Barbara, I find it interesting that you’ve taken a rather “subjective” tool and applied it to your writing in a most objective manner :-)

      I hope a few more readers do what you did and report their findings here !


  5. Pingback: Can Writers Really Judge Their Own Writing? | Notes from An Alien

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