Healthcare professionals can check the literacy level of materials they share with patients by using the readability function in Microsoft® Word®.

Here's how to use the readability in Word 97:

  • Click on "Tools" on the toolbar at the top of a Word page.
  • Select the "Spelling and Grammar" function; then click on the button that says "Options."
  • Inside the Options box, select the option "Show readability statistics," and then hit "OK."
  • After the spelling/grammar program finishes checking the document, a screen called "Readability Statistics" will pop up.

Microsoft Word checks readability using two indicators:

  • Flesch Reading Ease score, which predicts reading ease on a scale of 1 to 100, with 30 being very difficult (college graduate level) and 90 to 100 being very easy (5th grade level).
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, which translates the Flesch Reading Ease score to the corresponding U.S. grade level; for instance, a score of 7.2 means the average 7th grader should understand the material.

Both of these two readability scales assess two basic principles:

 How many syllables are there? Are there a lot of long words?If so, then readability is going to be more difficult. To make materials simpler to understand, replaces words that have a lot of syllables with shorter words, when possible. When it is necessary to include long words, provide simple definitions of these words.

How long are the sentences?The longer the sentences, the harder the document is to read and comprehend. To ease readability, break long sentences into two sentences, when possible. Also, keep paragraphs short.

See an example of how one provider simplified a patient communication piece.

Publication Date: Thursday, November 05, 2009