Re: Measuring readability

Subject: Re: Measuring readability
From: SteveFJong <SteveFJong -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Sat, 4 Apr 1998 12:48:43 EST

Some excellent points have been made in this thread. My own opinion is that
readability is a crude metric, but so easily obtained that tracking it is
worthwhile, if done as part of a larger suite of metrics.

The crudity of the metric is well established. At best it correlates to
readability; it does not measure it directly. (As someone said, measuring word
length is not the same as analyzing word usage; and measuring sentence length
is not the same as analyzing branching patterns.) However, I must point out
that the correlation is actually pretty strong. It's hard to write in high-
falutin' language without using long words, and it's hard to write complex,
hierarchical branching sentences without writing long ones.

I think any single metric shows only a portion of the quality picture, the way
a single color of paint shows only a portion of a whole image. And of course
if people are conscious of the metric, they can work around it. However, if
you combine metrics, you quickly sketch a reasonable image of the picture.
Readability measures two important elements. Combined with other metrics, I
think you can get a picture of documentation quality.

(I had an idea just now that might appall you, but it does add another
dimension to the metric and further sharpen it. To measure the complexity of
sentences, how about measuring the ratio of commas to periods? Unless you're
willing to avoid commas deliberately (and perversely), as you write complex,
branching sentences, as this one is fast becoming, your comma usage will pile
up, and the metric will reflect it.)

As I said, readability is easy to measure -- so much easier than the more
accurate protocols I've seen that it's worthwhile to go quick-and-dirty. What
you need is an easy but accurate procedure for collecting samples. I rather
like the three-penny method...

-- Steve

Steven Jong, Documentation Group Leader ("Typo? What tpyo?")
Lightbridge, Inc, 67 South Bedford St., Burlington, MA 01803 USA
mailto:jong -at- lightbridge -dot- com -dot- nospam 781.359.4902 [voice]
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