How we test documents

Mechanical readability tests

We run a suite of mechanical readability tests to calculate average grade level and other statistics. The software we use highlights characteristics of text that we know makes reading more difficult: things like long sentences, passive voice, difficult words and other factors.

But mechanical tests have limitations. It’s possible to write highly readable rubbish – text that scores well on a test but that is useless for readers.

Individually crafted survey questions

We consider the content of the document, your purpose in writing it, and the people who will be reading it. We then craft questions to explore, among other things:

  • Initial reaction and how likely the document will be read.
  • How interesting and useful readers find it.
  • Document structure and how easy it is to find information.
  • How well readers understand the key message.
  • How readers are likely to respond to the document – that is, will the communication product achieve purpose.

We send your document and the survey to either respondents you provide or to our panel of document testers. (6-12 testers are usually all we need to highlight any problems) We’ll provide you with the results of the test and, if it needs it, some suggestions to improve it.

Using your testers

Providing testers from your network has advantages:

  • The test subjects will be closely aligned to your intended audience.
  • If the testers are clients or customers, inviting then to test your document powerfully demonstrates your commitment to clear communication.
  • Usually these tests will be free.

Using our testers

Using testers from our panel costs extra, but has advantages:

  • Our testers are skilled at providing useful feedback.
  • Testing can be done in secret.
  • Tests can be run quickly.