Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Readability Assessment: Part II

Using computerized readability assessment tools. Most word processing programs include a feature that assesses readability. In addition, there are commercially available readability programs. Regardless of which computerized tool you use, it is recommended that you clean up your text before you assess readability:

•Save a copy of the document with a different name to use for the analysis.
•Check that the software you are using is accurately counting the number of sentences and words.
•Delete words that are not full sentences from the sample being tested. This includes such items as headings and bulleted lists.
•Delete extraneous periods that do not mark the end of a sentence. Periods found in numbers like 98.6 and abbreviations such as U.S.A. will make the results of assessment inaccurate.

Don't Over Interpret the Results

Grade level equivalent scores are, at best, only accurate by plus or minus 1.5 grade levels. This means that when you revise a material so that the score drops from 7.3 to 6.8, it is not necessarily easier to read. Results may also vary depending on which formula you use. For example, the Fry formula often returns a score that is one to two grade levels lower than the SMOG. The computerized Flesch-Kincaid tool often returns a score two to three grades lower than other computerized formulas. Results give us a ballpark figure.

While using one or two syllable words and short sentences will result in a lower readability score, the score does not necessarily mean that the document is easy to read. Sometimes the message gets lost when text is choppy and key points are overly simplified. To make written texts truly readable, apply all the principles of clear and simple writing. That includes:

•Focusing on information the reader "needs to know"
•Organizing information in ways that make sense to the reader
•Assembling materials so that they are inviting to read   

Match the Reading Level to the Reader

Readability formulas only measure the relative difficulty of the text. By themselves, the formulas are not sufficient to determine whether there is a match between the document and the reader. The only way to truly find out if a document is easy to read is to ask. Work with intended readers as you develop new materials. Then test the materials to confirm that the people actually do understand the information as it is presented.

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