• language test;
  • literature;
  • peer review;
  • publishing;
  • surgery

Background:  Readability indices have been developed based on sentence length and the use of long words. One such measure is the Reading Ease Scale developed by Rudolf Flesch. Texts that are easy to read have high scores: texts with scores below 30 are similar to legal contracts. This study uses Flesch scores to evaluate the readability of surgical journals.

Methods:  Flesch scores were calculated for articles published in the Archives of Surgery, the British Journal of Surgery, and the ANZ Journal of Surgery. The first 30 original articles published in each journal in 2005 were selected for study. Excluded from study were editorials, reviews and case reports.

Results:  The overall median score was 15.1 (0.0–29.1). The median scores for each of the journals were 12.4 (Archives of Surgery), 14.4 (British Journal of Surgery), and 18.6 (ANZ Journal of Surgery). There was only a minor link between Flesch scores and the use of surgical terms.

Conclusion:  Original articles published in surgical journals contain too many long sentences and complex words. Readability indices are useful tools because they promote the use of simple English. It is realistic for authors to aim for Flesch scores above 30 when creating manuscripts.