Re: Defining Readability Levels

Subject: Re: Defining Readability Levels
From: Keith Arnett <keith_arnett -at- RESTON -dot- OMD -dot- STERLING -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 8 Apr 1998 10:11:18 -0500

>Sheila Marshall <sheila -at- STK -dot- COM> wrote:

>Why would you expect that? A UNIX sys admin may be just as lost when
>trying to explain something out of his/her realm (take using Word as an
>example) than the person using the power lawn mower. Or, even better, the
>UNIX system admin may be the same person trying to read the power lawn
>mower -- how are you differentiating your audience? Do you immediately
>assume that people using lawn mower equipment aren't educated?


I perceive you may think me an intellectual snob, but this is not my

There is a difference between a reader's subject knowledge, and a
reader's reading capability level. No, I would not expect a UNIX
administrator to be an expert on lawn mowers, but I would expect that
he/she had at least a high school education, and more likely a two year
or four year college degree.

A lawn mower user, on the other hand, may be a small engine expert, but
exhibit sixth or seventh grade reading skills. He/she may be *in* the
sixth or seventh grade, or may never have attended school past the
eighth grade. Although a person with this kind of educational
background may be perfectly capable of being a UNIX administrator, it
is highly unlikely that he/she would be hired for such a job.

Thus, my point about target audience. UNIX system admins are a fairly
specific target, and I would expect to be allowed to write for them at
a level appropriate to their training and education.

Lawn mower users are a much broader target audience, an audience that
is highly likely to contain users with a limited educational
background. Thus, short, direct sentences and monosyllabic words
would be in order.

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

>Keith Arnett wrote:

>Another key component would seem to be your target audience. I
>would expect to use one readability level for a UNIX system
>administration 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 readability 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?

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