Re: Measuring readability

Subject: Re: Measuring readability
From: Michael Lewis <lewism -at- BRANDLE -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 23:46:37 +1000

A point we are all missing, I think -- at least we aren't giving it due
prominence: there's a difference between "readability" and
"comprehensibility". That's a difference between "I can work out what
this is saying" and "I could work it out if I had all the variables". By
variables, I mean such things as background knowledge and specialised
vocabulary. I confess to having confused these issues myself, in an
earlier posting to this thread. Let's acknowledge that in some cases,
the "lay" reader is so far behind the eight-ball that the most
rudimentary lexico-grammatical treatment won't shed any light.

Having said that, I'm all for considering "lexical density" (the ratio
between "content words" and "form [or grammatical] words", and I've
previously expressed a view about "packet length" (except that I talked
about the difference between flat, long structures and deep, compact
structures). Damien, can you give me contact details for Sandra

Damien Braniff wrote:
> At the ISTC conference last year there was an interesting presentation on
> readability by Sandra Harrison (Coventry University) and Paul Bakker
> (Eindhoven University of Technology). It was based on a new package for
> determining readability. It works on Word documents and included
> information explaining the statistics generated by Word, how to interpret
> them and how to use (and not use!) them. This was all fairly standard but
> it also reported on research carried out on two other readability
> descriptors - lexical density and distribution of sentence and "packet"
> length. Conclusions of early research indicated that:
> Lexical density of text may give a better indication of readability
> than many of the common formulae.
> The effective breaking up of sentences into "packets" may be as
> important to readability as the actual sentence length.
> In looking at mechanical variables of texts, we should not only be
> concerned with averages, but with distributions and most frequently
> occurring values.
> The package was demonstrated at the conference and the idea was to make it
> available as shareware once the online help had been completed (not sure
> how far along this is yet). The demonstration was quite impressive on a
> variety of texts, both technical and non-technical. The speakers said it
> could not be used to indicate good writing but could give a good indication
> of bad writing! Basically a "good "score" didn't mean the text was well
> written but a "bad score" probably indicated that the text would not be
> easy reading.

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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