How to use Readability Scores

 

Readability score resultsIf you need to make sure your writing is clear, the website Readability Score can help.

I’m not connected or affiliated to this website or its creator in any way, I just find it very useful, and wanted to share it with you.

Much of my working life involves writing, so to all intents and purposes I am a professional writer.

I want to show you why I find this site useful, and give you some recommendations on how to use it.

What is a readability score? What is a readability index?

The concept of a readability score (also known as a readability index) goes back many years, really hitting its stride in 1975, when Rudolf Flesch and J. Peter Kincaid built their Flesch–Kincaid readability tests for the US Navy.

The idea is that by looking at your writing, and making some calculations, we can figure out roughly how easy it is for somebody to understand what you’ve written.

It’s an automated calculation, so of course it’s not perfect, but it’s a very useful guide. The most common measures that these scores look at is sentence length, word length, number of syllables in your words, and the number of characters (letters) that you use.

Sometimes it’s difficult for a computer to count syllables accurately, so the measures are sometimes not 100% precise, but from a practical point of view that doesn’t matter.

There are two basic types of measures. The first is just a score, which doesn’t mean much by itself, but can be used to compare one piece of writing to another.

The second measure, which Flesch and Kincaid developed, and several others have followed, is more useful to us. It shows the average American school reading grade needed to understand your writing.

What are the most popular readability scores?

There are several readability tests that ultimately boil down to a US reading grade. This means that we can run several tests, compare them, and take the average.

Here are the big guns of the readability index world. They all work in different ways, and the links below take you to Wikipedia articles so you can find out more. They produce results of a US reading grade that are usually no more than two or three grades apart.

(Readability Score gives you these links when you see your results, which is nice.)

How does readability-score.com work?

This website was built and maintained by Dave Child, who’s based in the UK. I don’t know him personally, but he’s very friendly and responsive to email, if you have feature requests, etc.

The site is nice and easy to use, and looks good. You can either paste some text directly into the site (which is what I do), or upload files, or point the site to a URL web link that contains your text. The site can even monitor your links, such as your homepage, and alert you when certain readability thresholds are breached.

The results are very clear and easy to see, and I’m sure you’ll find it very useful.

You get to see the various reading grade levels for your writing, and an average.

You also get keyword density, ie how often certain words or two-word phrases appear. Personally I don’t need this, but if you write with SEO in mind it can be helpful.

Word count, sentence count, and average words per sentence are useful. I’ll give you some recommendations below for how you could use this.

The longest sentence is a crucial metric, and one that I asked the site author to add for me. (Impressively he added it within a day!) You also get the longest word, which can be helpful too.

If you are more than a casual user, there are very reasonably-priced subscription options, which help support the site.

A note on security and privacy: With sites like this, we always have to think about security and privacy. I’ve no idea whether this site (or any other similar site) stores your text, or does anything else with it. It probably doesn’t, but of course it could. (They do have a Privacy Policy.) So as always on the internet, it’s always best to assume the worst case scenario: don’t go pasting highly confidential documents into any kind of site like this, just to be safe!

How to use readability scores in your writing

Even highly intelligent and/or educated people (not always the same thing!) find it easier to read and comprehend writing that is at a lower reading grade. So no matter who you are writing for, whether it’s doctors and lawyers, manual workers, or the fabled “high-school dropouts”, a lower score is usually better.

The excellent book “Write everything right”, by Denny Hatch, (a long-time marketing man), is well worth a read. (Amazon UK  Amazon US)

It contains these facts from the Literacy Project Foundation, relating to American readers:

 50% of adults cannot read a book written at an 8th grade level

45 million are functionally illiterate and read below a 5th grade level

In other words, the average reading grade in America is 8th grade level. I have no particular reason to doubt that the UK is very similar.

The advice of Denny Hatch, which I agree with, is:

  • Keep sentences to 29 words or fewer
  • Write at 8th grade level or even lower if you can

Conclusion: an essential site for all writers

Here’s a screenshot showing the readability scores for this very article you’re reading now. (Click the image to see a larger version.) What do you reckon? Must try harder!

Readability score screenshot

Excel: How to find and count duplicate values in two lists

Use COUNTIF in Excel to quickly count how many values in one list appear in another.

I recently had a Master List of email addresses, and another list of Reject email addresses that needed to be excluded from this (because we no longer wanted to email these people).

Before I removed them from the mailing software, I wanted to see how many duplicates were in the list. (I didn’t want to accidentally wipe out the list by being over-zealous with the rejects!)

To do this, I used the COUNTIF function in Excel. (I’m using Excel 2016 for Mac, but this should work in any modern version of Excel.) This is much safer than a VLOOKUP for simple work. (See this article for the dangers of VLOOKUP.)

The screenshot below shows my spreadsheet. I replaced the email addresses with simple letters here, to make it clearer to see what’s going on.

Find duplicate values in Excel
Find duplicate values in Excel

I created three columns, for my Master List, my Reject List, and whether this row in the Reject List contains a duplicate.

The basic formula, as you can see in the screenshot below, is then:

COUNTIF(Master-List-Range, Row-From-Reject_List)

At the bottom I just did an Auto-sum. In this example, 3 rows are duplicates.

 

How to fix conflicting changes in Evernote

Do you see something like this in your Evernote note?

Conflicting modification on 28 January 2016 at 12:30:23

It means that you were using more than one device to edit your note, and you made changes before Evernote was able to synchronise the change.

Here’s a couple of ways you might go about fixing this.

DISCLAIMER: Although this has worked for me, you use it at your own risk! Take a backup copy of your note if you are concerned.

How to fix Evernote conflicting changes – Method 1: Quick and Simple

If, like me, most of your notes are just lists of things, such as ideas for my next book, then this will probably work well for you.

1. Copy your entire note to the clipboard.

2. Paste the note into this site:
http://textmechanic.com/text-tools/basic-text-tools/remove-duplicate-lines/

3. Click the button “Remove duplicate lines”

4. Copy the new text into your clipboard. This now has exact duplicate lines removed.

5. Paste the new text into your note, overwriting the old text. (Or paste into a new note if you want to be extra-careful.)

WARNING 1: This will remove any formatting that you were using in the note.

WARNING 2: Although this process doesn’t reorder your lines of text, because duplicate lines are removed you might find that lines lower down are no longer right next to the line they used to be next to. Personally, when I get a conflicting modification I just keep adding to the note at the bottom, and in practice this has never been a problem for me.

PRIVACY: I didn’t write this site that I linked to, and I’m not connected with it in any way, I just found it online. I don’t know it stores your note text (theoretically it could), so you might not want to paste anything too confidential in there.

So how does it know which lines to delete? Is it safe? Here’s an example:

If you are worried that you might lose text for some reason, you could always just copy all the text from your old note into a new note (ie duplicate the note) and just perform this procedure on the new note, so you’ve still got the old note as a backup.

This procedure will only delete lines that are identical to lines it has previously seen. So, in the following simple example, lines a and b are duplicated in the conflicting note, and the second instance of them is deleted:

BEFORE:

a
b
c
Conflicting modification on 28 January 2016 at 12:30:23
a
b
d

AFTER:

a
b
c
Conflicting modification on 28 January 2016 at 12:30:23
d

You’ll see that the “Conflicting modifications” notice is still in place; you’ll have to delete that manually.

How to fix Evernote conflicting changes – Method 2: Difference and Merge Tool

Thanks to reader JMichaelTX for making the following observation:

[The procedure above, which deletes duplicate lines] does not really help resolve the conflict, and conflicting lines may be physically separated.

A much better method is to copy each section (that is from an original note) to separate files, and then use one of the many tools that show differences and allow merges.

But what we really need is for Evernote to (1) prevent as many conflicts as possible; and (2) provide a tool to resolve the conflicts.

He is of course correct on all counts. The procedure he describes is more suitable if your note is more detailed. It would likely take longer to perform than the simple method I showed above, and requires a little more technical skill, but could provide better results for you, depending on the content of your notes.

So there’s a couple of choices, and I hope this helps you.

TextMechanic tool

How to speed up online video playback

If you watch a lot of online video, as I do in order to stay up to date on the latest technologies, you might find it useful to speed up the video so that you can get through everything more quickly and save yourself some time.

To do this, I use a free extension for the Google Chrome web browser called Video Speed Controller.

I find I can easily watch videos at 1.7x speed. This extension lets you go up in steps of 0.1x, so you can quickly speed up, slow down, and rewind 10 seconds when you need to.

Particularly useful are the keyboard shortcuts. As the presenter of the video speeds up, slows down, or covers something less interesting, you can use the keybaord shortcuts to very easily and quickly change the speed:

  • A = Rewind 10 seconds (very useful!)
  • S = Slow down 0.1x
  • D = Speed up 0.1x
  • R = Reset to normal 1x speed

A little wrinkle: it only works on HTML 5 videos, not Flash videos. Still, it will serve you well most of the time, since Flash video is old now, and on its way out (arguably!).

If you want to speed up Flash video as well as HTML 5 video, then try Enounce MySpeed. It costs $29.99, but it works well. It also has shortcut keys, and a nice slider that can appear to control video speed. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a way to quickly rewind video by 10 seconds. Still,

Email accounts are being hacked! Make sure your password is strong!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been getting a large number of spam emails from various friends who have had their email accounts hacked. The password has been guessed, and the attacker has sent emails containing spam links to everyone in the address book.

Worse still, anyone receiving the email can see the email address of everyone else who received the email, so you are effectively having your address book opened up to the world!

The solution is simple: make sure your email password is strong.

I recommend the use of a tool such as 1Password, that will generate long, strong passwords for you, and keep them safe too, so you only ever have to remember one password.

For more information, take a look at this classic article on how to choose a strong password.

 

Easiest way to comply with UK Cookie law on websites (PECR)

Thanks to the good old EU and it’s charming directives, UK law now requires websites to show a warning to the user if they are using cookies. This is the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), and there’s specific cookie info here.

Let’s lay aside the fact that this is incredibly tedious for the user, who either already knows that almost all sites use cookies, or else doesn’t know what a cookie is and probably doesn’t care.

If you’re a developer having to implement this, I’ve found a superbly easy to use and quick to implement Cookie Law compliance solution. You just follow a little wizard which generates a snippet of Javascript that you paste into the <head> section of the page, and you’re done. No downloads, no faffing about. It probably couldn’t get any easier!

https://silktide.com/tools/cookie-consent/download/

Hats off to them for a job well done! (This isn’t a paid endorsement, by the way!)

How to Fix: Scansnap ix500 scanner won’t power on

If you can’t turn on your scanner, here’s a way to fix it.

Disclaimer: Nothing here should be harmful to your scanner, but you do it at your own risk! 

The Scansnap ix500 is a great little sheet-fed scanner. Mine suddenly wouldn’t turn on any more, and it seemed to be dead, just turned off all the time. The manuals were of no help, so I contacted support. They were very good, and got back to me within a few hours with the following suggestion:

On the top surface, on the left hand side when your ScanSnap iX500’s ADF cover is opened you will find a small black square. This square is a power switch which automatically should “pop up” as the ADF cover opens. The switch can sometimes get stuck pressed down and cause the scanner not to power up. Please make sure that this black square is level with the rest of the plastic around it. If it would be pressed down it can be released by manipulating it with a thin object like a paper clip and the scanner should light up.

If the button is level and the scanner is still not showing any sign of life I would have to ask you to try another plug for powering your scanner and another USB port. I would also advise trying another power lead and adapter as well as another USB cable if possible.

The button works on the same principle as the switch that turns the light on and off in a refrigerator. I’ve fixed it by poking a pencil into the button just to give it a little nudge, and also by

I’ve fixed it by poking a pencil into the button just to give it a little nudge, and also by very gently tapping the left-hand side of the scanner with my hand.

These images show the little black button that you need to pop out, circled here in red. Click the image for a larger version if you need to.

ScanSnap IX500
ScanSnap IX500
ScanSnap IX500
ScanSnap IX500

A “fan” of simplicity

This blog post from Digital Amit is an oldie-but-goodie on a quick lesson in simplicity. This could be a useful story for you to tell when motivating your teams to keep it simple!

It compares two approaches to solving the problem of weeding out an empty box of soap on a manufacturing line.

Of course, you might argue that there should be a root cause analysis to find out why the box of soap was empty in the first place, but that spoils the point of the story!

The Agile BA: Agile Business Analyst Course

I found a very good course for Agile Business Analysts, called The Agile BA.

As the homepage says, there’s 150 minutes of learning material (comprising 62 videos in 7 modules) and 30 quiz questions (with solutions) for self-assessment.

The course has a very good introduction to lean thinking, and the thought processes behind agile, which is a nice change from some educational materials and certifications that I’ve seen.

Business Analysts, project managers, developers, and business people who commission software would all benefit from understanding the material covered on this course.

It’s a shame it doesn’t count towards a recognised certification, but at $100 until the end of 2014 (and then $125) it’s very good value for money, and I recommend it to you.

The Agile BA

Fun and useful tools from Google that you might not have seen

Here’s a few genuinely useful things that you might not have realised you can do with Google.

Here’s the ones I think will be most useful or fun for you:

Set a timer, optionally full-screen: Just search for an amount of time, followed by the word timer, eg 25 minute timer (good if you’re a fan of the Pomodoro Technique!)

Google NGrams lets you see how usage of certain words in books has changed over time, from years 1500 – 2008.

See how to pronounce huge numbers by searching for the number and then typing =english, eg 1234567890=english produces “one billion two hundred thirty-four million five hundred sixty-seven thousand eight hundred ninety

Google Trends lets you see what the top searches are right now:

You can also enter a search into Google Trends to see how a search term has trended over time: http://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=awesome

Google Trends Google Timer