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Introduction to Plain Language© 2005 William H. DuBay Introduction to Plain Language © 2006 Impact Information
© 2005 William H. DuBay Purpose The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the basic concepts of plain language.
Matching Texts with Reading Skills© 2005 William H. DuBay Contents What Is Plain Language? Know Your Reader Reading Skills Matching Texts with Reading Skills
1. What is Plain Language? © 2005 William H. DuBay A text can be clear, direct, and well written, but not easy to read if it does not match the reading capabilities of the audience. While this course touches on the main elements of good writing and the consistent production of good writing, the main emphasis will be on how to write for specific reading levels. In short, plain language is clear, effective, and direct. It does not speak down to the audience or omit required technical or legal information. It relies on the principles of clarity, coherence, organization, and graphic design. It uses layout, pictures, tables, and charts so that the text is inviting as well as easy to follow. It uses a tone that speaks directly to the reader without being officious or bureaucratic. Everyone who writes at work needs plain language. No matter what your job, profession, or line of business, you have to communicate clearly. Your audience always needs to understand your message. Plain language is not always easy. It takes training, method, and a little study of the best practices. That is what this course is about. Plain language is language that is easy for the audience to understand.
Plain-Language Samples© 2005 William H. DuBay 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. Prior to completing the application, the applicants should determine if the proposed corporate name is available. Before you complete the application, find out if another company is using the name you have chosen. Plain language is not “dumbed down” language. It is not condescending or patronizing. It is language that fits the reading ability and habits of the reader.
What happens when the text is too difficult?© 2005 William H. DuBay What happens when the text is too difficult? Readers feel frustrated. Most often, they stop reading. They may seek help or call support. They often go to some other task. All of this costs you money.
The Costs of Poor Language© 2005 William H. DuBay The Costs of Poor Language If your organization is not using plain language, you are not operating effectively. You are wasting money. If your organization is not using plain language, it is most likely paying the costs of some of the following: Unclear instructions that cause unnecessary support calls. Forms and applications that are badly filled in or left incomplete. Unnecessary and unused reports and specifications. Procedures and regulations that fail to motivate. Memos and business letters that require endless clarification. Legal notices that no one dares to read. Press releases that never make the news. Poorly written communications cost U.S. industry and government billions of dollars a year. Managers often feel that poor writing is so prevalent that they consider it a normal cost of doing business. They do not realize that with method and training, those costs can be dramatically reduced.
Plain-Language Benefits for the Reader© 2005 William H. DuBay Plain-Language Benefits for the Reader Plain language results in greater: Comprehension Retention Reading Speed Perseverance
Plain-Language Cost Benefits© 2005 William H. DuBay Plain-Language Cost Benefits Increased audience size. Greater customer satisfaction. Reduced costs of training, document production, and support. All of which makes you money. What happens when a text is too difficult for someone to read? They simply stop reading. While highly motivated readers may take the time and effort to master the text, most readers will not. They will give up the effort or call support.
© 2005 William H. DuBay 2. Know Your Reader The ease of reading depends on two sources, the text and the reader.
Features of the Reader that affect Readability© 2005 William H. DuBay Features of the Reader that affect Readability Prior Knowledge Interest Motivation Literacy (reading skill)
Make Use of Prior Knowledge© 2005 William H. DuBay Make Use of Prior Knowledge 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.
Study and use the design of materials familiar to your audience.© 2005 William H. DuBay Text Design Study and use the design of materials familiar to your audience.
Use a tone and approach appropriate for the purpose and the audience.© 2005 William H. DuBay Tone and Approach Use a tone and approach appropriate for the purpose and the audience.
Clear Organization is especially important for: Younger readers© 2005 William H. DuBay Clear Organization is especially important for: Younger readers Adults of lower reading skills Those unfamiliar with the subject
© 2005 William H. DuBay 3. Reading Skills Literacy surveys have shown that the average reader in the U.S. is an adult of limited reading ability. For a long time, no one thought of grading adults, who were considered either literate or illiterate. This began to change with the first systematic testing of adults in the U.S. military in The testing of civilians began in Chicago in 1937. During that first period, investigators discovered that general readers in the U. S. were adults of limited reading ability. The average adult was able to read with pleasure nothing but the simplest adult materials, usually cheap fiction or graphically presented news of the day. Educators, corporations, and government agencies responded by providing more materials at different reading levels for adults. The grade of completed education is no indication of one’s reading level. Average high-school graduates read at the 9th-grade level, which means a large number reads below that level. Those who pursue special domains of knowledge may develop higher levels of reading skill in those specialties than they have for general reading. Thus, college graduates, who prefer to read general materials at the 10th-grade level, may prefer more difficult texts within their own specialty. Students who are poor readers of general classroom material are often able to master difficult treatments of subjects that appeal to them. The reading grade level assigned to a text depends on the use of the text. If the text is used for independent, unassisted, or recreational use, the reading grade level will be higher than a text destined for classroom use and optimum learning gain. In other words, the same text will be easier for those with more advanced reading skills (with a higher grade level) and harder for those with less (and with a lower grade level).
National Adult Literacy Survey© 2005 William H. DuBay National Adult Literacy Survey Level 3 The young adult survey by the NAEP (1985) found that only 40 percent of young adults 17 to 25 no longer in high school, and 17 years old and in high school, read at a 12th-grade level. Large numbers leave high school still reading at the 8th-grade level or lower. The 1990 census showed that 24.8 percent of adults did not graduate from high school. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) of This U.S. Government study sampled 26,000 adults, representing 191 million adults. In 1993, it published the first of a number of reports on this survey entitled, "Adult Literacy in America” (National Center for Education Statistics 1993, 1999, 2001). These averages may be somewhat deceptive. They are based on a success criterion of 75%, which means readers at the lower levels may have reading skills in certain areas at much higher levels. The same studies show that 93% of all subjects reported that they read “well,” or “very well,” indicating they are satisfied with their reading levels. On the other hand, we know that those at lower reading levels not only have different world views but also different life experiences.
Canadian Survey Results© 2005 William H. DuBay Canadian Survey Results
Adult Reading Difficulties© 2005 William H. DuBay Adult Reading Difficulties Adults have the same reading difficulties as children of the same reading level.
Level of Education and Average Reading Ability© 2005 William H. DuBay Level of Education and Average Reading Ability Some high school High school graduate College graduate Professional 5th grade 9th grade 12th grade 16th grade
Effects of Low Literacy© 2005 William H. DuBay 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. Forty-three percent of adults with low-literacy skills live in poverty, 17% receive food stamps, and 70% have no job or part-time job. Over 60 % of frontline workers producing goods have difficulty applying information from a text to a task. Almost 50% of adults read below the sixth-grade level, below the level needed to earn a living wage. Adults at Level 1 earned a median income of $240 a week, while those at Level 5 earned $681. Seventy percent of prisoners are in the lowest two levels. In support of these figures, the number of companies reporting shortages of skilled workers doubled between 1995 and Ninety percent of Fortune 1000 executives reported that low literacy is hurting productivity and profitability. In one survey, more than half of the responding company representatives said that high school graduates applying for jobs are not literate enough to hire. Low levels of literacy have caused costly and dangerous mistakes in the workplace. There are other costs in billions of dollars in the workplace resulting from low productivity, poor quality of products and services, mistakes, absenteeism, and lost management time. The Adult Literacy Survey also confirmed the effects of literacy on health care. Since 1974, when health officials became aware of the effects of low literacy on health, literacy problems have grown. A more complex health-care system requires better reading skills to negotiate the system and take more responsibility for self-care. Using a nationally representative sample of the U.S. adult population age 16 and older, the National Academy (2002) on an Aging Society examined the impact of literacy on the use of health care services. The study found that people with low health-literacy skills use more health care services. Among adults who stayed overnight in a hospital in 1994, those with low health literacy skills averaged 6 percent more hospital visits, and stayed in the hospital nearly 2 days longer than adults with higher health literacy skills. The added health-care costs of low literacy are estimated at $73 billion in 1998 dollars. This includes $30 billion for the Level 2 population plus $43 billion for the Level 1 population. The total is about what Medicare pays for doctor services, dental services, home health care, prescription drugs, and nursing-home care combined. Low literacy is not chiefly the problem of immigrants, the elderly, high school dropouts, or people whose first language is not English. Low literacy is a problem that knows no age, education, income levels, or national origins. Most people with low literacy skills were born in this country and have English as their first language. One solution to the problem of low literacy of adults is more government and corporate support for adult literacy programs. Workplace literacy programs have cost-effective and lasting results. Another solution is to produce more texts that are written for people of diverse reading skills.
© 2005 William H. DuBay 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.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Literacy and Power Knowledge is key to establishing and maintaining power relationships. Furthermore, literacy is the key to knowledge. Highly literate persons possess large bodies of knowledge and information-processing skills.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Other Literacy Facts Large numbers graduate from high school reading at the 8th-grade level. A quarter of the population does not graduate from high school. The average adult in the U.S. reads at the 8th-grade level. The most popular books and publications are written at the 7th-grade level.
Blockbuster Writers All wrote at the 7th-grade level John Grisham© 2005 William H. DuBay Blockbuster Writers John Grisham Tom Clancy Michael Crichton Clive Cussler Mary Renault Frank McCourt Arthur Golden Harper Lee All wrote at the 7th-grade level
Romance fiction is written at the 7th grade level and below. Romance Novels Romance fiction is written at the 7th grade level and below. It generated $1.63 billion in sales in 2002. There were 2,169 romance titles released in 2002. Romance fiction comprises 18% of all books sold (not including children’s books). Romance fiction comprises 53.3% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America. Romance fiction comprises 34.6% of all popular fiction sold. © 2005 William H. DuBay
Readability of Popular Periodicals© 2005 William H. DuBay Readability of Popular Periodicals Periodical Grade Level % of Readers Boston Globe 12 25% Los Angeles Times Atlantic Monthly 11 30% Atlanta Constitution Cleveland Plain Dealer San Jose Mercury News New Yorker 10 40% New York Times Washington Post USA Today Harpers 9 50% Time Reader's Digest In 1949, Flesch published the results of a 10-year study of the editorial content of several magazines. He found that: About 45% of the population can read The Saturday Evening Post. Nearly 50% of the population can read McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal, and Woman’s Home Companion. Slightly over 50% can read American Magazine. 80% of the population can read Modern Screen, Photoplay, and three confession magazines.
© 2005 William H. DuBay “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. Mark Twain
© 2005 William H. DuBay Huckleberry Finn "Now," says Ben Rogers, "what's the line of business of this Gang?" "Nothing only robbery and murder," Tom said. "But who are we going to rob? -- houses, or cattle, or -- " "Stuff! Stealing cattle and such things ain't robbery; it's burglary," says Tom Sawyer. "We ain't burglars. That ain't no sort of style. We are highwaymen. We stop stages and carriages on the road, with masks on, and kill the people and take their watches and money." "Must we always kill the people?" "Oh, certainly. It's best. Some authorities think different, but mostly it's considered best to kill them -- except some that you bring to the cave here, and keep them till they're ransomed." "Ransomed? What's that?" “I don't know. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do."
Literacy Changes Lives© 2005 William H. DuBay Literacy Changes Lives
© 2005 William H. DuBay 4. Matching Texts The purpose of plain language is to close the gap between the reading level of the text and the reading ability of the audience.
The feature of text that makes it easy to read is called readability.© 2005 William H. DuBay Readability The feature of text that makes it easy to read is called readability.
© 2005 William H. DuBay
Benefits of Readability© 2005 William H. DuBay Benefits of Readability Improved readability increases: Comprehension (understanding) Retention (memory) Reading Speed Persistence (reading more of the text)
© 2005 William H. DuBay Compensation Easier text can compensate for lower levels of prior knowledge, reading skill, interest, and motivation.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Readability Formulas The readability formulas predict the level of reading skill required to read a text.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Formula Accuracy The popular readability formulas are 80 percent accurate. They give a good rough estimate of the difficulty of a text.
© 2005 William H. DuBay 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. The one perhaps most responsible for publicizing the need for readability was Rudolf Flesch, a colleague of Lorge at Columbia University. Besides working as a readability consultant, lecturer, and teacher of writing, he published a number of studies and nearly 20 popular books on English usage and readability. His best-selling books included The Art of Plain Talk (1946), The Art of Readable Writing (1949), The Art of Clear Thinking (1951), Why Johnny Can’t Read —And What You Can Do About It (1955), The ABC of Style: A Guide to Plain English (1964), How to Write in Plain English: A Book for Lawyers and Consumers (1979). Flesch was born in Austria and got a degree in law from the University of Vienna in He practiced law until 1938, when he came to the U.S. as a refugee from the Nazis.
Flesch Publication Scores© 2005 William H. DuBay Flesch Publication Scores
© 2005 William H. DuBay 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 Of all the formulas produced in the early classic period, validations of this formula have produced the most consistent, as well as some of the highest correlations. It correlated .70 with the multiple-choice test scores on the McCall-Crabbs reading lessons. You can find a computerized version of this original formula online at: Those interested in manually applying this formula can find the original 1948 Dale-Chall easy word list online at: Jeanne Chall
Robert Gunning’s Fog Formula© 2005 William H. DuBay 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 In his book “The Technique of Clear Writing,” Robert Gunning published one of the most accurate and easiest to use readability formula. Robert Gunning
Fry Readability Graph Ed Fry © 2005 William H. DuBay Directions:1. Select samples of 100 words. 2. Find y (vertical), the average number of sentences per 100-word passage (calculating to the nearest tenth). 3. Find x (horizontal), the average number of syllables per 100-word sample. 4. The zone where the two coordinates meet shows the grade score.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Formula Benefits The readability formulas have provided great benefits to millions of readers worldwide in many languages.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Formula Validity According to reading experts, the readability formulas correlate highly with comprehension as measured by reading tests. The formulas are frequently used in research and are admitted in court testimony.
Don’t Write to the Formula!© 2005 William H. DuBay Don’t Write to the Formula! Plain language requires more than shortening words and sentences. You also have to adjust the style, organization, tone, approach, and design to the reading habits of the audience.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Transforming Text 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.
© 2005 William H. DuBay Design After content and style, the design is the next important feature of readability. Design includes layout, typography, and illustrations. Design must match reading materials familiar to the audience.
Review I. What is plain language?© 2005 William H. DuBay Review I. What is plain language? Plain Language is easy for the audience to understand.
Review II. Know Your Reader© 2005 William H. DuBay Review II. Know Your Reader Plain Language matches the prior knowledge, interest, motivation and reading skill of the audience.
Review III. Reading Skills© 2005 William H. DuBay Review III. Reading Skills The average reader in the U. S. is an adult of limited reading ability. The average adult reads at the 8th-grade, middle-school level.
Review IV. Matching Texts© 2005 William H. DuBay Review IV. Matching Texts The purpose of plain language is to reduce the gap between the reading skills of the audience and the reading level of the text.
“An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.”© 2005 William H. DuBay “An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.” —William Shakespeare
Web Resources http://www.plainlanguage.gov© 2005 William H. DuBay Web Resources
© 2005 William H. DuBay For more information: 126 E. 18th St. #C204 Costa Mesa, CA
The Basics of Plain Language © 2005 William H. DuBay.
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Click Here to Begin. A Readability Formula NEXT FLESCH-KINCAID GRADE LEVEL READABILITY FORMULA In 1948, Rudolph Flesch, an author, and a supporter of.
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