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Herald readers: You’re smarter than you think

Many readers believe we newspaper types purposely write simple prose that aims at a specific grade level. Most commonly, I hear something like sixth grade.

After reading a recent column on the topic by David Zeeck, the executive editor of our sister paper in Tacoma, I decided to run a simple check.

A quick Google search helped me find a site that will calculate the Flesch-Kincaid grade level and the Flesch-Kincaid readability index for a bit of English text.

This site reports, “A high score (on the readability index) implies an easy text. In comparison comics typically score around 90 while legalese can get a score below 10.”

I picked four articles from recent editions of the Herald (including two from this morning’s edition) and two that were filed Tuesday by Associated Press writers and ran them through the calculator.

To understand the scores, you need to remember that the higher the readability level number, the easier it is to read. Generally, a higher number will translate to a lower grade level, although some of the samples I ran through the calculator did not follow that generalization.

Here’s what I found:

The easiest selection to read and the one with the lowest grade level score was an AP sports story about college basketball coach Bob Knight resigning and his son replacing him. It scored at grade level 9 and readability level 62.

Next up, a story in today’s Herald by staff writer Sara Schilling on Ash Wednesday. Grade 10, reading ease 51. Another story in today’s Herald about the discovery of a human scalp in Pasco scored grade 11, readability 51.

A recent op-ed column and blog item I wrote about Tri-City teachers being upset by a Herald public records request also scored grade 11, but readability 42.

Another AP story, this one also under a sports writer’s byline but about Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens being interviewed by congressional lawyers, scored out at grade 13 and reading ease 33.

And slightly easier to read, but requiring more education, was a story in Tuesday’s Herald written by staff writer Annette Cary on the Hanford budget. It scored 34 for reading ease, but 14 for grade level.

A half-dozen stories do not offer a comprehensive sample of the Herald’s readability. But they seem to debunk the myth that the Herald is written for grade-schoolers.

At the News Tribune, Zeeck reported its website home page was at sixth grade level with a 57 reading ease score and his column scored just below sixth grade level and 61 for reading ease.

And this item of mine scored 12th grade level and 35 for reading ease.

Seems like here in Eastern Washington all our readers are above average. Probably better-lookin’ too. That’s the news from Lake Wallula.

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