Flesch Reading Ease scale?

Subject: Flesch Reading Ease scale?
From: "Hart, Geoff" <Geoff-H -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
To: "Techwr-L (E-mail)" <TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 22 Mar 2000 08:12:35 -0500

Lorraine Kiewiet wondered <<For standard documents, I understand that we're
supposed to aim at above 50% reading ease and at about 8th grade level. With
today's Internet terms, newly-coined words, and so forth, how well does this
measurement hold up?>>

Although the goal of making text more readabile is vitally important,
readability indexes are not the way to go about it. Aiming for this kind of
lowest common denominator also does our audiences a great injustice because
it makes no effort to understand their real needs and write accordingly. My
favorite refutation of the whole philosophy of these indexes comes from
Scott McLare (a member of techwr-l, if memory serves): "a 'readable'
sentence doesn't become any less 'readable' (according to Flesch-Kincaid) if
you just randomize the words in the sentence". Case closed in my opinion,
but if you want something a bit more rigorous, have a look at the article
"Last rites for readability formulas in technical communication" (B.R.
Connatser, 1999, J. Tech. Writing and Communication 29(3):27-287). Amen
formulas, and rest in peace.

If your real goal is 50% reading ease (which means what, in concrete terms?)
at the 8th grade level, borrow a class of 8th-grade students and test the
writing on them to find out what specific styles and word choices pose
problems. But if you're writing for a real audience, do the tests with them,
not with an audience (the archetypical 8th graders) that may share little or
nothing with your real audience. Failing that, hire a good editor who can
adapt his or her approach to different audiences, and learn from how that
editor revises your text.

--Geoff Hart, FERIC, Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Hofstadter's Law: The time and effort required to complete a project are
always more than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's

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