The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the basic concepts of plain language. Purpose
1.What Is Plain Language? 2.Know Your Reader 3.Reading Skills 4.Matching Texts with Reading Skills Contents
Workshop Goals By the end, you will know how to: 1.Define plain language. 2.Define readability. 3.Assess the reading skill of your readers. 4.Use a readability formula. 5.How to match a text with the reading skill of your audience.
Plain language is easy for readers to understand because it matches their reading ability. 1.What is Plain Language?
Plain-Language Samples Before: A thorough inspection of your forest home or summer cottage and the surrounding property for obvious fire hazards is the first step in fire protection. After: You can protect your forest home or summer cottage by first inspecting your land and building for fire hazards. Before: Prior to completing the application, the applicants should determine if the proposed corporate name is available. After: Before you complete the application, find out if another company is using the name you have chosen.
What happens when the text is too difficult? Readers feel frustrated. Readers feel frustrated. Most often, they stop reading without even thinking about it. Most often, they stop reading without even thinking about it. They may seek help or call support. They may seek help or call support. They go to some other task. They go to some other task. All of this costs you money. All of this costs you money.
The Costs of Poor Language If your organization is not using plain language, you are not operating effectively. You are wasting money.
Plain language results in greater: Comprehension Retention Reading Speed Perseverance Plain-Language Benefits for the Reader
Greatly increased comprehension and readership. Greatly increased comprehension and readership. Greater customer satisfaction. Greater customer satisfaction. Reduced costs of training and customer support. Reduced costs of training and customer support. All of which makes you money. All of which makes you money. Plain-Language Cost Benefits
The ease of reading depends on two sources, the text and the reader. 2. Know Your Reader
1. Prior Knowledge 2. Reading skill (literacy) 3. Interest 4. Motivation Features of the Reader that affect Readability
Literacy surveys have shown that the average reader in the U.S. is an adult of limited reading ability. 3. Reading Skills
Adults have the same reading difficulties as children of the same reading level. Adult Reading Difficulties
Level of Education and Average Reading Ability Some high school High school graduate College graduate Professional 5 th grade 9 th grade 12 th grade 16 th grade
Effects of Low Literacy Those with low reading levels die earlier, spend more time in hospitals and jails, and have lower earning levels. Their children are less likely to attend college.
Literacy and Education There is often little relation between reading skill and education. There is often little relation between reading skill and education. Those with little education can go on to be come highly skilled readers. Those with little education can go on to be come highly skilled readers. Those with much education can lose their skills through lack of practice. Those with much education can lose their skills through lack of practice.
Literacy and Health Problems caused by low reading ability add an additional $73 billion yearly to health- care costs. Good readers take more responsibility for their own health.
Literacy and Job Performance There is a direct relationship between reading skill and job performance. Good readers bring vast domains of knowledge and resources to their work.
Literacy and Power Knowledge is key to establishing and maintaining power relationships. Literacy is also the key to knowledge. Highly literate persons possess large bodies of knowledge and information- processing skills.
Other Literacy Facts Large numbers graduate from high school reading at the 8 th - grade level. Almost a third of the population does not graduate from high school. The average adult in the U.S. reads at the 9 th -grade level. The most popular books and publications are written at the 7 th -grade level.
John Grisham Tom Clancy Michael Crichton Clive Cussler Mary Renault Frank McCourt Arthur Golden Harper Lee Mark Twain All wrote at the 7 th -grade level Blockbuster Writers
Romance Novels 1.Romance fiction is written at the 7 th grade level and below. 2.It generated $1.63 billion in sales in 2002. 3.There were 2,169 romance titles released in 2002. 4.Romance fiction comprises 18% of all books sold (not including children’s books). 5.Romance fiction comprises 53.3% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America. 6.Romance fiction comprises 34.6% of all popular fiction sold.
Readability of Popular Periodicals PeriodicalGrade Level% of Readers Boston Globe 12 25% Los Angeles Times 12 25% Atlantic Monthly 11 30% Atlanta Constitution 11 30% Cleveland Plain Dealer 11 30% San Jose Mercury News 11 30% New Yorker 10 40% New York Times 10 40% Washington Post 10 40% USA Today 10 40% Harpers 9 50% Time 9 50% Reader's Digest 9 50%
Mark Twain “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; and don’t let the fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.” — Mark Twain, in a letter to a 12- year-old boy.
Benefits of Readability Greater readability increases: Comprehension (understanding) Comprehension (understanding) Retention (memory) Retention (memory) Reading Speed Reading Speed Persistence (reading more of the text) Persistence (reading more of the text)
Easier text can compensate for lower levels of prior knowledge, reading skill, interest, and motivation.Compensation
The readability formulas predict the level of reading skill required to read a text. Readability Formulas
The popular readability formulas are 80 percent accurate. They give a good rough estimate of the difficulty of a text. Formula Accuracy
Rudolf Flesch Rudolf Flesch caused a revolution in journalism and business writing in 1948 with his book The Art of Plain Talk and his Reading Ease readability formula.
Microsoft Problems Microsoft Office Readability Statistics
Dale-Chall Formula 1948 Edgar Dale and Jeanne Chall created most accurate of all formulas. To measure word difficulty, it counts the words not on a list of 3,000 words familiar to 80% of fourth graders. Edgar Dale Jeanne Chall
Robert Gunning’s Fog Formula Count 100 words Grade Level =.4 X (average sentence length + number of hard words) Where: Hard words = number of words of more than two syllables Robert Gunning
The readability formulas have provided great benefits to millions of readers worldwide in many languages. Formula Benefits
Transforming Text Writing for a class of readers not one’s own is very difficult. It takes training, method, and lots of practice. Writing for a class of readers not one’s own is very difficult. It takes training, method, and lots of practice. When writing for such an audience, confer frequently with members of the audience, before, during, and after writing your text. When writing for such an audience, confer frequently with members of the audience, before, during, and after writing your text.
Don’t Write to the Formula! Plain language requires more than shortening words and sentences. You also have to adjust other factors of style, organization, tone, approach, and design to the reading habits of the audience.
Create and sustain interest by appealing to what the reader already knows. Lead the reader from the known to the unknown, from problems to solutions. Content
Rhetoric Purpose and outcome. Purpose and outcome. Behavioral change. Behavioral change. Persuasion and strategy. Persuasion and strategy.
A Readable Style 1. Short words and sentences. 2. Active voice. 3. Concrete nouns and action verbs. verbs. 4. Direct, personal approach. 5. Imperative mood for requirement. requirement. Trim! Cut! Simplify!
Design After content and style, the design is the next important feature of readability. After content and style, the design is the next important feature of readability. Design includes layout, typography, and illustrations. Design includes layout, typography, and illustrations.
Study and use the design of materials familiar to your audience. Graphic Design
Especially important for: 1.Younger readers 2.Adults of lower reading skills 3.Those unfamiliar with the subject Clear Organization
Organization I. The lower the reading skill, the more important the organization. A. Outline form is very logical. B. Narrative is like a story. II. Headings and indents show how elements are related to one another. A. Clear structure makes it easy to find things. B. It also makes things easier to learn and remember.
Use a tone and approach appropriate for the purpose and the audience. Tone and Approach
Review I. What is plain language? Plain Language is easy to understand because it matches the reading level of the audience.
Review II. Know Your Reader What the reader brings to the text is 1.Prior knowledge. 2.Reading skill. 3.Interest. 4.Motivation.
Review III. Reading Skills The average reader in the U. S. is an adult of limited reading ability, who reads at the 9 th - grade level. Nearly one half of U.S. adults, or 104 million, read below that level. Twenty-one percent, or 45 million adults, read below the third-grade level.
Review IV. Matching Texts What the text brings to the reader is: 1.Content 2.Style 3.Design 4,Organization
“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.” —William Shakespeare