Simple communication is usually better for lawyers. Although we frequently write for a sophisticated audience, this does not mean our writing should be overly complex. We write to inform and persuade. Impediments to comprehension created by our writing style only serve to inhibit these objectives.
If you want to know how readable your documents are, consider enabling Word’s readability statistics. You are probably familiar with Word’s ability to check spelling. You may also know that Word can check your grammar. (Both are enabled by default in Word.)
Word can also calculate the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scores for your documents.
First, you need to enable this function:
- In Word, click the File menu (Word 2010/13) or Office button (Word 2007).
- Click Options (left side, bottom).
- Select Proofing (left side). Make sure that “Check grammar with spelling” and “Show readability statistics” are both checked (you cannot check the statistics option unless the grammar option is checked first).
Once enabled, a pop-up box will display your readability and grade-level scores immediately following each spell check. Microsoft explains the Flesch Reading Ease score as follows:
This test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard files, you want the score to be between 60 and 70.
You can also find a detailed explanation of the Flesch Reading Ease score on Readability Formulas. The Flesch-Kinkaid measure indicates the grade level at which someone should be able to read the document. Therefore, a grade level score of 10.4 would indicate that a tenth grader would be able to read the text.
Here is what the statistics box will look like:
As part of a growing trend, many lawyers are re-working their complex documents with an eye towards making them more readable. Traditional legalese and redundant terms (such as “free and clear,” “null and void,” or “due and payable”) are being stripped out while navigation-friendly paragraph titles and tables of contents are being added.
On behalf of everyone who has ever read a contract, I hope this trend continues.
Originally published 2015-01-23. Republished 2016-09-16
Featured image: “reading on a cloud” from Shutterstock.