What is plain language? Plain language is language that is easy to understand. It is not only clear, direct, and well written. It also matches the reading level of the audience.
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.
Why you need plain language If your organization is not using plain language, you are not operating effectively. You are wasting money.
Benefits of Plain Language The benefits of plain language include: Greater comprehension, reading speed, retention, and perseverance. Greater comprehension, reading speed, retention, and perseverance. Greater customer satisfaction. Greater customer satisfaction. Reduced costs of training, document production, and support. Reduced costs of training, document production, and support.
Know Your Readers Creating plain-language texts demands knowing the reading ability and habits of your readers, how much they already know about the subject, and their level of interest and motivation.
Adult Literacy Studies Like students in school, adult readers have different levels of reading ability. Studies over the last 70 years have shown that the average reader in the U.S. is an adult of limited reading ability.
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. Problems caused by low reading ability add an additional $73 billion yearly to health-care costs.
Challenges for Writers The lessons of the literacy studies: The larger the audience, the more it will include the average reading habits and skills of the public as determined by the literacy surveys. The more critical the information is for safety and health, the greater is the need for increased readability.
What Makes a Book Readable 1935 Essential factors in readability: Content 33.64% Style 30.71% Format 19.84% Organization 15.82% William S. Gray and Bernice E. Leary, What Makes a Book Readable, 1935
The Readability Formulas The readability formulas are methods for predicting the difficulty of a text as measured by reading tests. The readability formulas are methods for predicting the difficulty of a text as measured by reading tests. Although not 100% accurate, they give a good rough estimate of the reading level of a text. Although not 100% accurate, they give a good rough estimate of the reading level of a text. They are the only objective measure we have. They are the only objective measure we have.
The Formula Variables
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.
Flesch Publication Scores
Dale-Chall Formula 1948 Several studies have shown the Dale-Chall formula to be the 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 Gunnings Fog Formula Count 100 words Grade Level =.4 X (average sentence length + hard words) Where: Hard words = number of words of more than two syllables Robert Gunning
Fry Readability Graph Ed Fry
Design After style, the design is the next important feature of readability. After style, the design is the next important feature of readability. Design includes layout, typography, and illustrations. Design includes layout, typography, and illustrations. Design must match the medium and the reading ability of the audience. Design must match the medium and the reading ability of the audience.
Organization Organization is especially important with: Younger readers Younger readers Adults of lower reading skills Adults of lower reading skills Those unfamiliar with the subject Those unfamiliar with the subject Advanced readers can usually tie things together and figure out the organization; other readers cant.