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How to Prepare Your Text to Help Readability Formulas Calculate an Accurate Grade Level

To achieve an accurate measurement of text, you need to prepare you document before you score them with a computerized readability formula. Otherwise, your results may vary by a significant margin.

To score a document, a computerized readability formula will analyze: (1) word length as measured by the average number of syllables per word, and (2) sentence length as measured by the average number of words per sentence. The program specifies how to do this and the computer follows instructions in a mechanical way:

TIP #1: Embedded punctuation confuses the computer when it is counting the number of sentences. Most readability programs tell the computer to sense the end of a sentence by looking for a punctuation mark that triggers the end of a sentence, such as a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Sometimes this punctuation falls within a sentence, rather than at the end, but the computer cannot differentiate this.

TIP #2: Titles, headings, and bulleted lists can mislead the computer. A computerized readability program cannot distinguish ordinary sentences from titles, headings, and bulleted lists because the sentence has no punctuation. If the computer keeps searching for punctuation, such as a period, question mark, or exclamation point, it will include the text from headings as part of the first sentence that follows the heading. Obviously, the program will miscalculate the sentence length.

To help the computer calculate and score text correctly, you need to prepare the text first by removing things that will confuse and mislead the computer:

TIP #3: Since the computer interprets any period as the end of a sentence, you need to remove embedded punctuation, such as periods that you've used for abbreviations.

TIP #4: You also need to remove text that is not in full sentences, such as titles, headings, and bulleted points.

Check your program documentation for information and specific instructions. If you score a document both by hand and by computer, be sure to use the same sample of text for both methods to make meaningful comparisons of the results.

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