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Simple Ways to Check and Improve the Readability of Your Legal Writing

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Good writing is often simple writing. That maxim works as well for legal writing as it does for 'The Old Man and the Sea.' But as lawyers, it's easy to let simplicity get lost under a pile of legal complexities, terms of art, and subordinate clause after subordinate clause.

In the process, your writing can sometimes become almost unreadable, even to other lawyers. Thankfully, there are a few ways to quickly and simply check your work's readability -- and to fix it up if it's becoming a bit too complex.

Checking Your Readability

If you do your writing on Word, Microsoft has readability statistics built right in. (If yours aren't turned on, check out this simple guide to using Word's readability statistics on Lawyerist.) Word breaks down your document by sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, and characters per word, giving you an overall readability score.

That score is based on the Flesch-Kinkaid readability score on a scale from 0 to 100, and gives you a relative grade level. If you're writing for a general audience, you'll want to keep your score around 60 or 70 and keep in mind that the average American reads at an eighth grade level.

If you don't use Word or want to delve deeper into readability statistics, consider checking out websites like Approsto. Approsto's readability analyzer gives you six total readability scores, based on different formulas.

Improving Your Readability

If you're looking not just for analysis, but tips on how to improve readability, consider testing out Readability Score. Like Approsto, Readability Score provides multiple readability grades. Like Approsto, it's free.

But this website goes a bit further, too. Readability Score will analyze your text quality, estimate the necessary reading time, and even tell you the piece's overall sentiment. (This one is "positive," according to Readability Score.) It also gives you tips on how to improve your readability, word by word and sentence by sentence.

If you don't want to tab between websites and your word processor, you might want to consider WordRake, too. WordRake has a "plain writing" feature that helps strip your work of unnecessary legalese, improving your readability.

But remember, these programs are robots. They're not particularly intuitive and most of them, with the exception of WordRake, weren't designed with lawyers in mind. So pay attention to what they suggest, but remember that you don't have to follow every piece of their advice.

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