[Fwd: Readability indices]

Subject: [Fwd: Readability indices]
From: Michael Lewis <lewism -at- BRANDLE -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 23:13:24 +1000

Geoff has trouble sending to the list, and has asked me to forward this
on his behalf. He says some nice things about one of my postings, so how
could I possibly refues?

Geoff Hart wrote:
> Greets!
> Bang on the head! You put the problem of readability indices into
> very nice perspective. I'd like to elaborate on what you said, but
> can't post directly to the list. Would you mind forwarding this for
> me? I still can't post directly. Thanks!
> --Geoff
> ********
> Michael Lewis hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that
> syntactic analysis is much more valuable than simplistic readability
> indices, which are one of my personal hobgoblins. Frankly, none of
> the common readability indexes based on word or sentence length or
> word complexity are worth using; worse, they're usually dangerously
> misleading. Strong statements? Let's do a reality test.
> Sentence length: Is "eschew obfuscation" really simpler for most
> readers than "write simply and clearly and don't confuse your
> readers with convoluted wording"? Is "follow standard maintenance
> procedures" more helpful to readers than providing a reminder of
> what these represent via a short list of the procedures? I think
> not.
> Word length or complexity: Is "neurobiology" any more complex than
> "the study of nerves"? Not to a neurologist. "Teleoperation" isn't
> much help to most of us, but makes perfectly good sense to robotics
> wonks. I don't think anybody really understands "existentialism"
> <g>, but philosophers at least know what the word represents.
> Speaking of which, you can't get much simpler than the word "I",
> but would any two techwhirlers agree on what the word means? Is the
> length of the word itself important? I doubt it.
> The key to readability is threefold. First, choose words that your
> audience understands, and use explanations or "wordier" phrasings
> where the words aren't going to facilitate comprehension. Second, use
> simple, unconvoluted structures, and where it's helpful, things like
> bulleted lists, subheadings, and so on. Third, test your assumptions
> on your audience. Nothing else will work reliably.
> --Geoff Hart @8^{)}
> geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

Michael Lewis
Brandle Pty Limited, Sydney, Australia
PO Box 1249, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012
Suite 8, The Watertower, 1 Marian St, Redfern 2016
Tel +61-2-9310-2224 ... Fax +61-2-9310-5056

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