Microsoft Word: Making the grade

By J. Carlton Collins, CPA

Q. Is it possible to check the reading grade level of the letters and reports I write in Word 2016, and if so, how do I do this, and exactly how does this grade-level calculation work?

A. To check your Word document's reading grade level using the Flesch-Kincaid score, from the Word File tab, select Options, Proofing, and under the When correcting spelling and grammar in Word section, make sure the Check grammar with spelling and Show readability statistics boxes are selected. After you enable this feature, open a file that you want to check, and start the spelling tool by pressing the F7 key. After Word finishes checking the document's ­spelling and grammar, the spelling tool also displays information about the document's reading level, as pictured below.


The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test rates text on an approximate U.S. school grade level; for example, a score of 13.0 (as shown in the screenshot) means that the average freshman in college would be expected to understand the text. The specific formula for calculating the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is: (0.39 × ASL) + (11.8 × ASW) — 15.59

In the formula above, ASL = average sentence length (calculated as the number of words divided by the number of sentences), and ASW = average number of syllables per word (calculated as the number of syllables divided by the number of words).

The Flesch-Kincaid Reading Grade Level scoring system was developed in 1975 by J. Peter Kincaid and his team as a special project for the U.S. Navy. According to research published by Robert P. Strauss and Helen Lin of Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, the Flesch-Kincaid grade level of the Gettysburg Address, the U.S. Constitution, and the Internal Revenue Code (as of 2012) are 10.6, 12.3, and 9.8, respectively. Further, this duo calculated the mean average Flesch-Kincaid grade level for the instructions for preparing Forms 1040, 1120, and 1120S tax returns (over a 22-year period ending in 2012), were 8.4, 10.0, and 10.3, respectively.

And just for fun, I used Word's Flesch-Kincaid tool to calculate that this month's Technology Q&A column scores a 13.0 (mainly because this column's many menu instructions result in more complex sentence structures; I sure hope my column is easier to understand than the U.S. tax code).

About the author

J. Carlton Collins ( is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

Note: Instructions for Microsoft Office in “Technology Q&A” refer to the 2007 through 2016 versions, unless otherwise specified.

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