Re[2]: Defining Readability Levels

Subject: Re[2]: Defining Readability Levels
From: Keith Arnett <keith_arnett -at- RESTON -dot- OMD -dot- STERLING -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 1998 13:07:53 -0500

Heidi Martin wrote:

> The audience for these manuals is global, and not everyone speaks
> (or reads) English as their first language.

This is an increasingly significant consideration. Our Style Guide,
for example, bans the use of contractions to avoid confusing users who
are not native English speakers. Likewise, one must avoid idioms,
stock phrases and examples that are not shared across cultures,
technologies or languages.

The kernal of this discussion seems to be the very essence of techical
writing -- expressing complex procedures or concepts in simple and
effective terms. In the computer business, this is becoming
increasingly difficult as marketers, analysts and trade publications
seem to be vying to outdo one another by coining and utilizing the most
horrible terminology--"mainframe-centric," "heterogenous environment,"
and the like.

Another key component would seem to be your target audience. I would
expect to use one readability level for a UNIX system adminstration
manual and a different readability level for a power lawn mower
manual. Is it possible that there is some sort of relationship
between the complexity of the subject matter and the comfort level of
the reader?

That is, can we apply a higher readablity level to a manual on a
complex piece of medical equipment because we know the primary user
will be a licensed medical doctor with an advanced degree?

Keith Arnett
Technical Writer
Sterling Software, Inc./Operations Management Division
Reston VA USA

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