Re: Readability Indexes

Subject: Re: Readability Indexes
From: Bonni Graham <bonnig -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 17 May 1995 10:07:34 -0700

Geroge wrote:

>Sheryl Curtis asked whether the readability index capability of various word
>processors could be used to measure the relative readability of French prose.
>Since these tools use word length (syllable count) and sentence length in
>making their calculations, they can be used with various languages. I'd be
>careful, though, to ensure that my word processor has a hyphenation algorithm
>for whatever language I was using to ensure that the syllable-based word
>length calculations are accurate.

This brings up one point about readbility indexes -- take them with a grain of
salt, whatever language they're evaluating. I'm using them right now to gauge
an automotive air-conditioning retrofit manual, and I'm allowing about one or
two grade levels higher than my expected audience. The reason is threefold:

a) Since the indexes calculate on word length, "information" (a word easily
understood by a broad reader base) is rated as difficult, while a word like
"schism" (a word understood by a much smaller reader base) is rated as easy.
Thus "I understood the information" receives a rating as "more difficult" than
"The schism was sweeping".

b) If you're using the readability grade level to judge the ease of reading
ESL readers may have, remember that some multi-syllable technical terms (i.e.,
"hard" words) are similar to their foreign-language counterpart, especially if
your primary ESL transition is Spanish-to-English and the terms are Latinate.

c) Although your audience's overall reading grade level may be low (as my
audience's is -- and I'm not slamming the automotive technicians; my husband
was one for 18 years and the judgement call on readability was his), their
comprehension of the technical terms for their profession or area of expertise
is high. Therefore, I can get away with "compressor", "evaporator",
"refrigerant", "dessicant", etc. (all "killers" on the reading ease ratings)
because they are familiar terms to the audience.

Point being, readability indexes are a tool, not a final arbiter.

Bonni Graham
Manual Labour
"The opinions expressed here exactly match those of my employer, since she is

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