WRITING STYLE

I Refuse to Dumb Down My Writing!

Grade-level readability is a bogus standard

Edward Thomas
ILLUMINATION
Published in
2 min readMay 13, 2024

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One piece of oft-quoted writing advice suggests that writers need to dumb down their prose because some obscure percentage of the public is stuck at a fifth-grade reading level.

Hmmm…

From what I was able to glean from publicly available information, it seems that those advocating for this might be misunderstanding what readability formulas actually measure.

Trying to write at a particular grade level does not necessarily guarantee readability or comprehension. More often than not, manipulating sentences to hit a particular grade level sweet spot results in text that is bland, boring, and robotic.

Unfortunately, it seems that the dubious write-for-a-fifth-grader rule has been fully integrated into the DNA of Grammarly and other A.I. writing tools. Grammarly constantly nags me about how some percentage of English readers will struggle to understand what I write. It suggests I use simpler vocabulary and shorten my sentences.

“No way,” I say.

People find my writing difficult to understand?
Maybe it is upon them to up their reading skills.

My sentences are too long and should be broken up into short and simple bite-size bits?
Perhaps it’s high time Dear Reader brushes up on relative pronouns and coordinating conjunctions.

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Edward Thomas
ILLUMINATION

Chicago | Japan since 1969 | Japanese>English translator, editor | Teaches English at Japanese University. | Buy me a ko-fi @ ko-fi.com/edwardthomas