Software for screening documents for literacy level

Is anyone using software to screen your health information educational materials for literacy levels (excluding Microsoft Word)?



Hi, folks,

First, let me say that Word's readability function has several problems and usually gives a grade level that's about 2-3 grades below trusted, commonly-used formulas and programs. We readability specialists strongly discourage its use.

In addition, no matter what electronic method you use, it's important to prepare your text beforehand to get an accurate score. There are a few key things you  need to do. I've created a set of instructions that's available on the website of the hospital system I work in . Feel free to download it from

Regarding Health Literacy Advisor, it's very fast and accurate. It's also very pricey. We have purchased one license for one user. In my organization, that's me since I'm the health literacy specialist. No one else has access. So if you can't afford it, use the free SMOG website in the instruction sheet above.

When I was working as a health literacy consultant/trainer and developing materials, I used Readability Calculations which is also a very good program.

Hope this is helpful,

Audrey Riffenburgh, M.A., Senior Health Literacy Specialist

Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), UNM Hospitals, Albuquerque, NM 

(505) 272-5101

It is neither just, nor fair, to expect a patient to make appropriate health decisions and safely manage his/her care without first understanding the information needed to do so (Reducing the Risk by Designing a Safer, Shame-Free Health Care Environment.  AMA, 2007).


Hi Michelle and all:

I am with Health Literacy Innovations creator of the Health Literacy Advisor (HLA) software tool referenced above.

The HLA offers nine readability scores in English and six in Spanish. But the HLA is much more than a readability tool. It is a comprehensive health literacy solution.

It offers several other powerful features such as providing thousands of plain language alternatives.  Other features include:

  • Search and replace capacity – highlights medical jargon and difficult to understand words
  • Plain language alternatives as replacements right on your document
  • Editorial prompts: flags long sentences, multi-syllable words, other grammar issues

It also cleans the document for you (ignoring certain features users need to delete when using electronic tools, and what Audrey is referring in her publication)

It ignores proper nouns, such as the word California, during readability assessment – something no other tool can do

According to the HLA users, among the best things about the HLA vs. other “readability tools” are: 

  • The writer does not have to cut and paste text into a box to get a reading assessment
  • The user can stamp scores of specific readability indexes and date and time of assessment in the document 
  • Writers can assess a section of the page, one page or multiple pages at a time (no page or text amount limit)
  • It scores running text or single words, word lists, or any text layout
  • It works with text in boxes and tables

Again do not take my word for it, if you would like to have a free demo, please let me know, I will be glad to send you a free 48-hour trial and give you tricks and tips in using the tool for simplification, bulk or multi-year discounts as well.

Aracely Rosales

Dear friends,

Yes, Aracely is right. HLA is more than a readability software. I love it and use it a lot. I mentioned only the readability function since that was the topic at hand. But yes, the software does all those things in fine style. It's sweet!

Audrey Riffenburgh

Senior Health Literacy Specialist

University of New Mexico Hospitals

Albuquerque, NM

(505) 272-5101