Chris Ashton

dai11y 18/04/2023 – What makes writing more readable?

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What makes writing more readable?

A fantastic deep dive into how to write in ‘plain language’. The entire article is written in normal literary style, but every paragraph has a plain language equivalent adjacent to it, which you can toggle to switch to.

The interactivity of this article is a joy to play with and really helps to demonstrate the processes that go into translating text into plain language. We see Rebecca Monteleone’s thought process behind how she translated an example paragraph into plain language.

We then learn about the Flesch-Kincaid formula, which measures readability based on the length of words and sentences. It’s not hugely effective: “the dun fox cleared that slouch of a dog at full tilt” is at a 0.89 (1st grade) grade reading level, compared to the allegedly more difficult 2.34 (2nd grade) reading level for “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog”.

The Dale-Chall Readability Formula considers the proportion of “difficult” words instead. This, similarly, isn’t all that effective. “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” is at 0.45 (4th grade or below) according to that formula, but drops to 0.25 (also 4th grade or below) by simply prefixing the sentence with “Yes!”.

Finally there is the Lexile Framework for Reading, which is a proprietary scoring system whose exact algorithms are unclear. But it oddly rates The Grapes of Wrath as far easier to read than The Library Mouse (32 page children’s book).

Formulas aren’t a great measure of ease of reading:

None consider how well organized the information is, or whether the sentences and paragraphs are coherent. None consider the role of grammatical tense. None account for the explanation of acronyms and jargon. None would balk at Jack Torrance’s rambling and meaningless draft in The Shining, endlessly repeating “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Well worth a read.

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