A pounding of Flesch

A friend of mine once told me the difference between guitar players and keyboard players. Guitarists usually have a favourite guitar they’ll play until it literally falls apart in their hands, whereas the keyboard player buys the latest model as soon as it comes out. For the guitarist it’s all about the sound. For the keyboard player, it’s all about the buttons, dials and gadgets.

When it comes to word processors, I’m very much like the keyboard player. Whenever a new version comes out I’ll grab it in the hope it has some new feature that will make writing easier for me. I’m up to Word 2007 now, and out of the thousands of features it has I probably only use half a dozen.

And I’m trying to bring that number down by one.

The real-time word count is probably what I love the most. It’s great to look down and see the words slowly building up. (Very slowly in some cases.) Of course, this is a blog and so word counts don’t really matter—I can write as much (or as little) as I want. But I seem to be averaging around 400 words a post, and so I always try to get close to that number.

The grammar check is nice, but I’ve learned to ignore those green squiggly lines. Word’s telling me the second sentence in that last paragraph has a problem (probably because it’s sentence fragment), but I think it works.

But there’s one feature I’m actually trying not to use—the readability statistics. I use it all the time at work, mainly to confirm the document I’ve been asked to edit really is as awful as I think it is. (“A hundred percent passive voice? You’ve got to be kidding me.”) It’s also a good way to see if I’m heading in the right direction by comparing the before and after stats. (And if I should start getting paid for every word I shorten them by.)

But I’m learning to avoid it here, because sometimes the numbers are scarier than the words.

In one of my earlier posts I wrote this paragraph:

I won’t miss the mad rush to get our son to day care in the morning. We’ll still have to take him (my typing can only entertain him for so long), but at least there won’t be a mad rush to get him there early enough so I can get a park at the train station because if all the car spaces are taken where on earth would I park and OMG I don’t know what to do!

According to Word, that second sentence is 62 words long, has a Flesch Reading Ease of 47.0 and a Flesch-Kincaid  Grade Level of 22.1. That last number in particular would frighten the hell out of me at work (I try to bring it down below 10). But again I think it works.

And to me, that’s what’s most important.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Glenn Murray February 18, 2010, 9:04 pm

    *chuckle* I remember hearing once that Word had that feature. I went looking for it. Can’t remember if I found it though. Needless to say, I don’t use it. A far better way of seeing how readable it is, is simply to read it out like you’re a voiceover guy. Your wife might think you’re a bit weird, but it works. (And I bet she thinks you’re a bit weird already! That’s what she told me, anyway…)

  • Glenn Murray February 18, 2010, 9:27 pm

    Oh. And further to my shout-out post just now, I reckon you should ask Paul about getting some social widgets happening. I uninstalled my FF StumbleUpon toolbar, and you don’t have any widget here for me to tell the world I love you!


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