By linguistic features i think of the structure of a sentence, the usage of subclauses, passive or active and such alike.

What would you suggest someone who has no clue of what are considered conventions that ease the understanding of the reader?

  • Can you be more specific? This question, while very interesting, basically asks, "what is clear writing, linguistically" and I think that's an awfully broad question. From the FAQ: "Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." Nov 4 '14 at 15:08
  • no, i am not really asking for a linguistic answer. I thought it might be easier to use linguistic terminology like subclauses, nounphrases, passive, relativpronoun etc. to be more specific when talking about writing conventions.
    – meireikei
    Nov 4 '14 at 15:11
  • Why do you want to know? Is this for a writing project, or to improve your writing? Nov 4 '14 at 15:23
  • yes, i want to acquire a basic set of tool and understanding in order get the self-confidence to estimate if what i write is chaotic or fullfills some easthetical conventions.
    – meireikei
    Nov 4 '14 at 15:27
  • 2
    If you want to write literature of fact, or technical, this question would be spot-on. But since you tagged it [fiction], you should really rethink your priorities. In fiction writing being informative is secondary to being expressive. Don't go shopping for the best ruler, setsquare and protractor if you're just starting painting classes.
    – SF.
    Nov 5 '14 at 7:36

A good primer on stylistic conventions is Strunk and White's Elements of Style, at least for writing in US English. It follows a prescriptive convention, which may be helpful to beginning writers. It can apply to many different types of writing, including essays, stories and letters. At its base, it helps to develop a clear and concise style, which I believe is what you mean by readability.

Most writers, however, will advise you to study the conventions of literary style by consuming more contemporary literature. In short, it is not possible to be a good writer without also being a reader.


There are some criteria for assessing the readability of texts, which give you a result corresponding to the school grade at which a child could easily comprehend the text - I.e. the most 'readable' text is the one which can be understood by the youngest children (limited vocabulary, simple structure).

If you want your text to be maximally readable then go for:
- restricted vocabulary
- simple grammar
- short sentences

For simplified English word lists etc, see http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basic_English

For interest, here's the readability results for this page as of now (excluding text below this point):

Grade Levels

A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 5.8
Gunning-Fog Score 7.5
Coleman-Liau Index 12.5
SMOG Index 5.7
Automated Readability Index 4.1
Average Grade Level 7.1


This page has an average grade level of about 7.

It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.

Readability Indices

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease 65
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level 5.7
Gunning Fog Score 7.2
SMOG Index 5.7
Coleman Liau Index 12.2
Automated Readability Index 3.9

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease

Based on a 0-100 scale. A high score means the text is easier to read. Low scores suggest the text is complicated to understand.

206.835 - 1.015 x (words/sentences) - 84.6 x (syllables/words)
A value between 60 and 80 should be easy for a 12 to 15 year old to understand.

Grade Level indicators

These equate the readability of the text to the US schools grade level system.

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level

0.39 x (words/sentences) + 11.8 x (syllables/words) - 15.59

Gunning Fog Score

0.4 x ( (words/sentences) + 100 x (complexWords/words) )

SMOG Index

1.0430 x sqrt( 30 x complexWords/sentences ) + 3.1291

Coleman Liau Index

5.89 x (characters/words) - 0.3 x (sentences/words) - 15.8

Automated Readability Index (ARI)

4.71 x (characters/words) + 0.5 x (words/sentences) - 21.43

Coleman Liau and ARI rely on counting characters, words and sentence. The other indices consider number of syllables and complex words (polysyllabics - with 3 or more syllables) too. Opinions vary on which type are the most accurate. It is more difficult to automate the counting of syllable as the English language does not comply to strict standards!

read-able.com: Test results for http://writers.stackexchange.com/posts/14325

  • 2
    This is a great answer (+1), and very helpful for writers of children's or middle grade fiction, but from the comments of the OP it seems to me that (s)he understands readability as related to the quality of the writing.
    – user5645
    Nov 6 '14 at 10:43
  • 2
    @what: Thanks! I think you might be right. I thought that lea's existing answer catered pretty well to the OP's implicit question ("What are the elements of a good writing style?") but that if I chipped in with a definition of 'readability' as well then that would clear up the OP's misunderstanding of the term - also perhaps be useful for visitors finding the page for 'readability' queries in future.
    – A E
    Nov 6 '14 at 11:12

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