Writing for a magazine: what level of difficulty?

by Yule Heibel on October 24, 2007

(see update, bottom of this entry)

I’m in the middle of returning to an article for the December issue of FOCUS Magazine, the Victoria monthly for which I’m a regular contributor. My column is called “City Smarts,” and I’m usually limited to 800 words — which is really tough for someone as loquacious as I am. I spend most of my time whittling, editing, deleting, and sometimes telescoping waayyyy too much, which then means more editing to make the whole thing more comprehensible again. I have to pay plenty of attention to being comprehensible: people whose intelligence I don’t especially seek to emulate have told me that they don’t understand a word of what I write on my blog, but let’s face it: here in my blog domain I don’t have to keep an eye on popularity anyway because that’s just the kind of stubborn, ornery person I am. For the magazine, however, that’s a different story altogether. I really have to …well, focus!

I typically have these BIG ideas and only so few words to express them, which means that every word counts. Hard. I can’t afford to be obscure, fey, overly intellectual, snooty, …heck, none of the things I so enjoy doing on my blog! 🙂

So there I am, in the midst of this draft (number five million and three), and because I’m also working on another text (totally unrelated to FOCUS) and using google docs, I thought it would be easier to have two tabs open and write them both in that format. Since word count matters, I clicked on that feature (found under the “file” tab), and saw something new: my 400+ words so far (see?, I really am in the middle of this thing, never mind that the middle I have might not be the middle I end up with — ditto for the beginning…) have scores for readability. “What’s this?” I think to myself. I see something about a grade level, and I’m reminded of something I read about blog popularity and grade levels: that blogs written at grade 9 level or below are most popular…

I click through on the little question mark next to my “readability” score for the 400+ words I have so far, to this wikipedia page: Flesch-Kincaid Readability Test – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Well, who knew? I didn’t. See how much I don’t know?

Here’s my little assessment:


oops, see update, below…

For some reason, this algorithmic assessment makes me feel uncomfortable — despite hitting the magic “grade 9” level tone… And I’m certainly not sure that I want to work hard all the time just to get my blog to that supposedly magic number, even if it did mean that my words could conquer the world!

Let’s face it, if this proves anything it’s that numbers are conquering the world, not words.

Update, Oct.31/07: I just posted another entry on this, and realized (while checking back on this one) that the numbers for my “Readability” score weren’t reproduced here, just a little box that says Readability — in teeny-tiny letters, to boot. Sorry about that, and I can’t seem to find the old draft now to pull the exact numbers in this entry. The point was, however, that my “Flesch Reading Ease” was somewhere in the 50s (I think?), and the “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” was 9. In the final revision, I slipped off that magical “grade nine” level, to “grade 11” and a “Reading Ease” score of 39.21. According to Wikipedia’s entry, The Harvard Law Review’s stuff is in the low 30s, which I guess is supposed to mean that its texts are appropriately lawyerly and opaque… Perhaps somewhere in the mid-30s you escape opacity, enter a level of transparency, but don’t quite liberate yourself from the palimpsest of complexity.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: