Readability Metrics and Technical Writing

Kesi Parker
Apr 2, 2019 · 4 min read

FAQ on Technical Writing

In my previous post called ‘ClickHelp Update — Aurora Polaris’ I mentioned that ClickHelp added readability metrics. Why don’t we go over them all? Here is a list of all the metrics that are available for all languages in ClickHelp.

As you can see, there are plenty of metrics available; but how do they work and how can you implement them into your working process? Let me shed some light on this.

Why are Readability Metrics Important?

Readability metrics help to indicate the accessibility of text, indicating how easy it is to read and understand. So, due to them, your texts will be easy-to-interpret and users will gladly read your documentation.

If you’re interested in SEO, readability metrics are also your best friends. Google has even publicly stated that readability is one of the factors in its ranking algorithm. Nowadays, search engines became more human-oriented and now they’re better at predicting what people want to read as people are more interested in relevant and high-quality content.

What is a Good Score?

A good score depends on your target audience, your chosen style, a type of text (for example, it can be API documentation or medical document). But there are some general rules of thumb. According to Future Now referring to various published studies, an “ideal writing standard” might be considered as the following:

  • No more than 4.25 characters per word.
  • No more than 5% passive voice.
  • No less than an 80% readability.
  • A Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level between 4 and 65.
  • A Fog Index lower than 13.

There’s no need to learn those rules by heart: ClickHelp provides users with the necessary information about good scores. For example, I wrote a topic and decided to use the Flesch Reading Ease metric. But I don’t know the standard. I just hover the infobox icon and get the information that ClickHelp provides:

However, keep in mind that 9th grade, for example, doesn’t mean that all people will easily understand your text because your audience is above the age of 15; a school level is used to show you visually how easy your text is.

How can I Improve my Text?

If you get the score that says — your text is difficult to read, you definitely should rewrite it. Here are some tips:

  • Know your target audience: learn how your customers talk about your product/service, so you can write to them using the language they actually use.
  • Stick to technical writing style.
  • Write important information first.
  • Forget about passive voice.
  • Remove unnecessary words like “the” or “a”, extraneous words like “that”.
  • Use a clear sentence structure and keep your sentences short.

You can read about those pieces of advice in detail here: ‘Tips on Improving Technical Writing’. Moreover, you’ll find some style guides there that will teach you how to write concisely.

Conclusion

The readability metric topic is difficult because it involves formulas, calculation and the like. However, as a technical writer, you don’t have to know the whole mechanism, you just need the result. That’s why I described it superficially, without technological details.

Moreover, you should keep in mind that there is no good or bad score, it all depends on what you want to achieve. If you are writing a text that is aimed at the widest possible audience, so the lowest grade level is what you should stick to. If you write documentation for the B2B audience, for example, your text can be more difficult but my advice is whether your text is for the large audience or not you should keep your writing concise and simple because people (even those who have the relevant education to your writing) get the main idea better when text is clear.


Technical Writing is Easy

Technical writing is for everyone!

Kesi Parker

Written by

Job position: Freelance Technical Writer. Read my FAQ to learn more about me!

Technical Writing is Easy

Technical writing is for everyone!

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