Readability tools? Just say no!

Subject: Readability tools? Just say no!
From: Geoffrey Hart <Geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA>
Date: Wed, 24 Mar 1999 11:27:30 -0500

Art Campbell wondered <<Does anyone have a reading level
analysis program that will work on native FM format files? Or
any other exportable format? .RTF, txt, whatever? I'm
looking at MicroPower & Light's Readability Plus, but
haven't played with it yet.>>

Whatever tool you pick, try this trick to test whether it's any
use: take a simple sentence and arrange the words in random
order (better still, arrange them maliciously so the sentence
makes absolutely no sense, or even says the opposite of what
you intended to say). If the software provides a comparable
readability index for both versions of the sentence, demand
your money back. Good luck finding something that passes
this test.

If you absolutely need a measure of readability based solely
on word counts, word lengths, etc., you can almost always
use the software's built-in tools. For example, MSWord gives
you a total word count, plus the number of paragraphs, lines,
and characters. You can generate any index you want using
these numbers... though in my opinion, you're still wasting
your time. There's almost no correlation between the main
readability indexes and actual readability, and there won't be
for a good long time to come until someone develops a tool
that can parse the content of text in the specific context of a
well-defined audience.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} Pointe-Claire, Quebec
geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca

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

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