So how about that State of the Union speech the other night?  I’ve been thinking about the hour-long final talk to the nation that President Obama gave the other night. Not in terms of content, exactly, but in terms of readability. And comprehension.

This occurred to me as I also did a bit of work on website readability for a client.

How would the SOTU by POTUS stand up to the same tests and measures? Was that talk “readable”?  “Listenable”? “Understandable”? Comprehensible?

If so, for whom? If none of the above, why not? To whom, exactly, was it directed? Did that work?  

I feel for presidential speechwriters. I feel for all speechwriters. And I feel for those of us who write for business. We need to capture the voice of the speaker, but we have to square it with the audience before which the talk will be given. Not a small job. We need to remember: That means simpler words, shorter sentences. (Yes. Just like that.)

OK, so how did the speech on Tuesday night measure up? I fed the text, from CNN Politics (, through several readability tools.

Here’s what I learned: 

Word-Counter Tool showed that the 5478 word (!) speech (that’s 31,045 characters) was written at the 11th-12th grade level. That’s rather high. I’ll bet you’re remembering the time-tested advice to write at the eighth grade level, aren’t you? Well, that may be true, but that’s not where this speech wound up. (

Read-able told me the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease Score was 61.2 and said this talk was at the 10th grade level. That means it’d be understood by 15 and 16-year-olds. That’d be roughly the same level as writing on the website for the some-would-say elite BBC. (

The Writer told me that the talk was written at the 9th grade level. This site offers the opportunity to find both the SMOG formula and the FOG index. This site pins this SOTU at between 10 and 15. A score of 18 for any work would be, should be, well, rare. Very rare.