‘Are your texts inclusive for everyone? Write your text at the correct reading or language level. This may be very helpful for readers with a special need or with a reading disorder.
Think of reading disorders like for example, dyslexia, reading disability, (specific) reading disorder, or a specific reading comprehension deficit. Besides reading disorders, about 1.5 million people in general (in The Netherlands) have difficulties with reading and writing. Research has shown that many government texts are too difficult for the people for whom they are intended.
To ensure that your message is understood by everyone, your text must have the right reading level. At the website of Stichting Accessibility (the Dutch Accessibility Foundation) you can read more information about reading levels (Stichting Accessibility, 2019). The Accessibility Foundation is committed to a digitally, physically, and socially accessible society.
The European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is generally accepted as the yardstick for the reading level of texts and other language expressions. The CEFR distinguishes six levels:
A1: I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example in memos, posters and catalogues. Example: ‘I’m going home. I have to eat. Are you coming too?’
A2: I can read short simple texts. I can find specific predictable information in simple everyday texts such as advertisements, menus and timetables and I can understand short, simple personal letters. This is the level that must be achieved by people integrating in The Netherlands.
B1: I can understand texts that mainly consist of high frequency every day or work-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters. About 40 percent of the Dutch population has this language level. Many free newspapers use this language level. About 95 percent of the Dutch population can read and understand these texts.
B2: I can read articles and reports dealing with contemporary issues where the writers take a particular attitude or point of view. I can understand contemporary literary prose.
C1: I can understand long and complex factual and literary texts and appreciate the use of different styles. I can understand specialized articles and long technical instructions, even when they do not relate to my field.
C2: I can read with ease almost all forms of the written language, including abstract, structural or linguistically complex texts such as manuals, specialized articles and literary works.
Mismatch of reading and language levels in the Netherlands
Scientific research shows that a lot of communication is not effective because the texts are written in far too difficult reading level. Figure 1 shows that the average reading level of people in the Netherlands is at language level B1 (40%). The text supply and the text level at which text is usually presented and written is around language level C1 (75%). Therefore, the national Dutch government recommends language level B1 for (web) texts on (government) websites.
Tool: test the reading level of your text
These tools (see also below) can give you an indication of the level of technical reliability of your English or Dutch text. In addition to technical clarity, the content, structure, and design of the text are also important for overall clarity. Therefore, this tool can only give an indication of the reading level. What if your text is still too difficult? You can enhance it and thus make your text more readable.
How to measure the reading level of your text
- 10 free readability calculators for English texts
- Free readability calculator for Dutch texts (Stichting Accessibility)
More information about reading ease of texts
- The European Framework of Reference (CEFR)
- NNGroup wrote an article about professionals wanting plain information.
- HAN did a study about the comprehensibility of texts about payment and healthcare (Dutch only)
The Accessibility Foundation. (2019, November 18). Are your texts understandable to everyone? Write at the correct reading level. Retrieved March 3, 2023, from: https://www.accessibility.nl/blog/zijn-jouw-teksten-voor-iedereen-begrijpelijk-schrijf-op-het-juiste-leesniveau. (article in Dutch)