Online tools


23 Nov 2012 | Updated 19 April 2016

WE use various tools and webapps that seem to produce the desired results with the least amount of time, money and effort.

Apps arranged alphabetically by name under these headings:—

  • Readability (general)
  • Readability (active vs. passive voices)
  • Converters — Chinese | Linguistics | Fun

We welcome suggestions for inclusion.

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READABILITY (GENERAL)

THE CONCEPT

See first the Wikipedia entry on Fleisch-Kincaid readability tests.

Readability statistics are a good practical estimation of the general reading level of documents (particularly technical ones). Different scores are computed using various formulas, so bear in mind they are machine estimations. Most formulas rely on counting characters, words or sentences (the primary weakness of the method), but some indices consider syllables and complex polysyllabic words. Opinions vary on which statistic is the most accurate. Counting syllables is a more difficult process and harder to automate because the English language isn’t strictly ‘standards-compliant’!

The best known indicators are:—

Fleisch-Kincaid Reading Ease (FRE) score was invented for U.S. Air Force use in 1976. It is the world’s No. 1 most used and most quoted standard readability indicator, mainly because FRE functionality is built into every version of Microsoft Word. FRE is valid for use only with English-language texts. FRE measures how easily an adult can read and understand a text by reference to American school grade levels. High scores mean easier readability.

Fleish-Kincaid Reading Ease score bands

90–100 — Very Easy
80–89 — Easy
70–79 — Fairly Easy
60–69 — Standard
50–59 — Fairly Difficult
30–49 — Difficult
0–29 — Very Difficult or Confusing

Fleisch–Kincad Grade Level (FGL) indicates the American school grade a person must have reached to be able to understand the text. For example, an FGL of 7 means that a 7th-grader will be able to understand the text. The FGL score is always associated with the FRE score.

Coleman–Liau Grade Level readability score gauges the grade level that an adult requires to read and understand a text. The formula relies on counting words (in character length) and sentence length (in words). It is applicable for use only with English-language text.

Bormuth Grade Level readability score is designed to evaluate more academic documents, such as school textbooks. It estimates the grade level that an adult requires to read and understand a text. Again, the formula relies on counting characters, words and sentences, and applicable for use only with English-language text.

Automated Readability Index (ARI) relies on counting characters, words and sentences (like Coleman-Liau).

THE ONLINE TOOLS

Free Test Readability Consensus Calculator | Readability Formulas | Free

This direct-input online tool calculates the number of characters, words, sentences and syllables in your sample. The app plugs the numbers into 7 popular indices to show your sample’s readability and the grade level required from your audience to read it. The website also has separate readability tools for results in the Fry Graph, Raygor Estimate Graph, Spache Formula and New DaleChall Formula.

Readability Index Calculator | Standards Schmandards | Free

This online tool provides FleischKincaid readability statistics for Danish, Dutch, English, French, Spanish and Swedish copy.

The Readability Test Tool | Read-able.com | Free

An online tool for testing whole webpages and direct input. Provides HTML codes for readability widgets for websites.

Professional RFP Letters | RFP Evaluation Centers, Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Free

RFP provides a variety of readability formulas for manual calculation and templates for producing Request for Proposal (RFP) letters.

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READABILITY (Active vs. Passive Voices)

THE CONCEPT

A text that’s low on (or devoid of) passive sentences provides for maximum reading flow and gives strength to exposed ideas, thereby easing the understanding and persuasion process. Aim for the lowest-possible passive content for best readability.

Active vs. passive voice

The active voice and passive voice are different tense formats for expressing the same idea. For instance, The flight was cancelled by the airline (passive) says the same thing as The airline cancelled the flight (active), but each describes different perceptions of the event.

To be verbs (such as iswas and were) are typical of the passive voice. Theoretically, a lower number of to be verbs indicates better writing. This is perhaps present in only less than 20% of sentences.

The active voice is more direct, concise and engaging. ‘Direct’ is in the sense of open and uncomplicated. Many people (even native English speakers) misunderstand ‘direct’ to mean bluntness, rudeness or inconsiderateness, or even simple-mindedness — it means nothing like that. Professional writers say it’s slightly harder to write in the active voice, but it gives much tidier results.

Does it mean we have to ban passive sentences?

Quite the opposite. Using the fewest possible passive sentences is good practice, even if only for stylistic quality. Whenever there’s a choice, simply avoid using a passive sentence and use an active one — as long as you won’t lose meaning (or introduce extra meanings) for it.

Text for emergency situations routinely uses the active voice to increase immediate understanding (all real-life examples):—

This door must be kept shut at all times. (Passive)
Keep door shut at all times. (Active)

Cars parked in this area will be towed away without notice. (Passive)
Cars parked here towed without warning. (Active)

This way does not lead back to the platforms. (Passive: via Central MTR Station, 2013)
No way back to platforms. (Active: same location, ca. 2003)

The magazine must be pushed completely into the chamber with the left hand. (Passive)
Push the magazine all the way into the chamber with your left hand. (Active)

Your browser must have JavaScript enabled for it to work. (‘semi’ Passive)
Enable JavaScript in your browser to use. (Active)
Works only with JavaScript enabled in your browser. (Active)

So zero passive sentences mean perfection, right?

Not really, but try to be near (but not necessarily equal) to zero passive content.

Indeed, passive sentences aren’t always bad for readability. Sometimes they are useful for highlighting the passive nature of a fact or when it doesn’t matter who was responsible for the action:—

He was overwhelmed by stress due to our tight deadlines. (Passive)
More and more cars are made from composite synthetic materials. (Passive)

The Passive Sentences ratio is the percentage of passive sentences contained in a text, computed from the ratio of passive sentences over active sentences.

THE ONLINE TOOL

‘To Be’ Verb Analyzer | Aztekera.com | Free

This online tool tests out active vs. passive content. Works only for English.

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CONVERTERS & TRANSLATORS

Chinese

Chinese Stroke/Input Experiment | JabTunes.com | Free

If you know how to ‘draw’ Chinese characters in roughly the right stroke order, then this website is a godsend. Write the character on the left-hand panel with the mouse. Suggestions come up in the right-hand panel. The character you select outputs to the bottom panel for copypasting. Enable JavaScript in your browser for the webapp to work.

MDBG English to Chinese Dictionary | MDBG.net | Free

Look up Chinese words in Chinese, Pinyin or English, or look up all of the Chinese words in a text sample. Sometimes it’s a bit better than Google Translate. Interface isn’t user-friendly enough.

Online Cantonese Input Method | CantoneseInput.com | Free

Type in the Cantonese sound of the word. Out comes the suggested Chinese characters. But if you can’t read or write Chinese, you won’t know which of the suggestions is the one you want. Yer pays yer money, yer pick yer goods.

Linguistics

English Phonetic Transcription Converter | Project Modelino | Free

A straightforward online IPA converter from normal English into generic IPA. Maximum 700 words each time for guest users. Do multiple conversions for longer text.

The GDEX Demo Dictionary | ForBetterEnglish.com | Free

GDEX is an experimental automatic collocations dictionary based on the Sketch Engine technology. Enter an English word to see available collocations and example sentences. GDEX’s methods are described in Adam Kilgarriff et al., GDEX: Automatically finding good dictionary examples in a corpus (Barcelona, Spain: Proc. EURALEX, 2008).

PhoTransEdit – English Phonetic Transcription Editor | PhoTransEdit.com | Free

PhoTransEdit is a free online IPA converter that outputs either Received Pronunciation (BrE) or General American (AmE) transcription. Max. 300 characters (not words).

Fun

Learn to speak lolcat: the lolcat translator | speaklolcat.com | Free

Learn to speak lolcat — the language of all animals, not just cats, dogs, kittens and puppies. Communicate with your pet dog or cat. Docta Dolittle eat ur hart out!

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© Learn English or Starve, 12 Nov 2012. Last updated 19 April 2016.

CHANGELOG (B12418):
Released 23 Nov 2012
Updated 24 Nov 2012 (link fixes, new links, amendments)
Updated 08 Feb 2013 (reformatting software section)
Updated 20 Aug 2013 (new entries)
Updated 26 Aug 2013 (formatting corrections)
Updated 29 Aug 2013 (added subheadings for clarity; trimmed copy)
Updated 19 Apr 2016 (general amendments and link updates)

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