Dumbing it down... not!

Subject: Dumbing it down... not!
From: "Geoff Hart (by way of \"Eric J. Ray\" <ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com>)" <ght -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998 04:54:13 -0700

Amy Peacock bemoans <<...having to dumb down a document to a certain
grade level of reading. The dumber the better it seems. My purpose in
using the tool in the first place was to show the higherups (they do
like to see those numbers, don't they?) that my words really aren't
too big, etc. One doc had a readability level of 5.3 and the other
had a level of 7.2.>>

I'm on record as stating that the commonly available readability
indices are worse than useless; they're outright misleading. You can
quote me on that again. Why? They don't account for audience
differences, they make the assumption that short words are better
than long ones (which is commonly not the case), and they have no
ability to parse sentences to determine whether the meaning is either
correct or clear. All of these are more important than the average
word length and the number of dependent clauses, which is about all
that most indexes measure. I also have serious reservations about
"dumbing it down", since this both displays contempt for the reader
and puts you in the impossible position of having to provide
knowledge and intellect that the reader should be able to provide
(otherwise, why give them the job?) if they're using the software.

Write simply, by all means. Use the correct words for your audience,
yes. Make sure that your audience understands what you're saying
(i.e., do a usability/readability test), yes. Use any of the common
readability indices? Not with this generation of software, and not if
you value your audience's ability to use your documentation.
--Geoff Hart @8^{)}
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

"Patience comes to those who wait."--Anon.


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