Author Topic: Text Analyzers--Readability  (Read 13647 times)

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Offline Randall Sadler

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Text Analyzers--Readability
« on: November 16, 2009, 02:35:34 PM »
While readability often is used to talk about whether a text is worth reading at all (e.g. That book was soooooo unreadable), it is also a term used to refer to a number of features from a text.

According to our friends at Wikipedia (downloaded 11/11/2010), readability refers to "Readability tests, readability formulas, or readability metrics are formulae for evaluating the readability of text, usually by counting syllables, words, and sentences."

There are a number of different formulas used to determine readability (well over 200), but no that are fully developed for use in ESL classes.  Nonetheless, using a readability formula on a reading that  you have found to be an appropriate level for your students, getting the resulting number, and then using that number as a baseline for choosing future readings, can be a good strategy to ensure you are getting the right level of readings for your students.

You can also obtain some basic readability statistics directly from Microsoft Word (Flesch Reading Ease & Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level).  Just search for "readability" in the Word help area.  In Word '10 you can use this by: 
 1.  Click the Microsoft Office Button (or the File tab), and then click Word Options.
 2.  Click Proofing.
 3.  Make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
 4.  Under When correcting grammar in Word, select the Show readability statistics check box.
 5.  Now do a spelling & grammar check, and the statistics should pop up in a new window.

Another popular readability formula is the Gunning Fog Index
Here is an online tool to determine this index:

It is important to note that not all readability forumulas are appropriate for analyzing all texts.  The information below is modified from this site:
  • Dale-Chall: Dale-Chall Readability formula is a general formula suitable for all kind of texts.
  • Spache: Spache Readability Formula is ideal for the texts aimed at up to 3rd grade level students.
  • Powers-Sumner-Kearl: The Powers-Sumner-Kearl Readability Formula is ideal for text geared towards primary age children (age 7-10).
  • SMOG: McLaughlin’s SMOG Readability Formula is appropriate for the text aimed at secondary age (4th grade to college level) readers.
  • Flesch Reading Ease: The Flesch Reading Ease Readability Formula is a general formula suitable for all kind of texts.
  • Gunning Fog: The Gunning Fog Index Readability Formula is ideal for education material aimed at business houses, like business magazines and journals.
  • Fry Graph: The Fry Graph Readability Formula is a general formula suitable for all kind of texts.
  • Coleman-Liau: The Coleman-Liau Readability Formula is ideal for the text aimed at 4th grade to college level readers.
  • McAlpine EFLAW: The McAlpine EFLAW Readability Formula is ideal in determining the ease of reading English text for ESL/EFL (English as a Second/Foreign Language) readers. more info
Some Online Text Analyzers
One of the challenges of ESL writing/reading teachers is to decide what texts are really appropriate for your students.  There are a number of text analyzers freely available, and though most of them are aimed at L1 readers, they can still have a very good idea of the relative level of readings.  A general note on readability stats.  You'll notice that the numbers they'll give you often vary...sometimes a lot!  They are tools to use in conjunction with your own judgment and experience.


Paste in a URL to test the readability of a website

Here is a website that lets you paste in or upload an attachment and provides a number of readability results:

HOWEVER, none of the text analyzers above is actually made to evaluate texts for ESL/EFL students.  Happily, there are some recent additions that actually are helpful!

  • CEFR Text Analyzer is based on the very important Common European Framework and gives a score based on where the words in the text are ranked in the most commonly used 10,00 words in English, and also by the average length of the words in the passage and the average sentence length.  Still not perfect, of course, but at least more useful for our purposes.  Of course, this means you also need to take a look at the CEFR and how it works.  This one will also give you a score based on the IELTS, which is the second largest test for ESL/EFL students after the TOEFL exam.

It is important to note that all of these formulas have strengths and weaknesses---sometimes more weaknesses than strengths.  However, they are an excellent way to have a more objective way to determine exactly how difficult a reading may be for your students.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2020, 09:34:54 AM by Randall Sadler »
Randall Sadler, Site Owner
Asst. Prof, Linguistics, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Offline katwu

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Re: Text Analyzers--Readability
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2009, 08:12:35 PM »
The text analyzer is really interesting. I pasted some of the reading material that I used for my ESL class and surprisingly found that the readings that I gave them tend to be rather "difficult' according the analysis--something that I've never noticed before.

This helps me to be more aware of the reading material that I'm choosing for my students. Whenever I'm unsure about the level of difficulty of a certain material, it'd be nice to see what the text analyzer has to say about it! ;)