Friday, June 1, 2012

What intelligent readers!

Lew Rockwell posted a link to this "Readability Calculator," which tests document readability and offers authors advice on how to rewrite to improve the readability of their text.

Ever anxious to make readable this heretofore unreadable blog, I submitted the text of a recent post for evaluation with the following results.

Test Document Readability
Number of characters (without spaces) : 1,150.00.
Number of words : 232.00
Number of sentences : 12.00
Average number of characters per word : 4.96
Average number of syllables per word : 1.73
Average number of words per sentence: 19.33
Which makes it look pretty readable, eh? I mean, less than an average of five characters per word, less than 20 words per sentence, less than two syllables per word.

But no, apparently this is really tough to read.

Indication of the number of years of formal education that a person requires in order to easily understand the text on the first reading
Gunning Fog index : 15.66
Approximate representation of the U.S. grade level needed to comprehend the text
Coleman Liau index : 11.84
Flesch Kincaid Grade level : 12.40
ARI (Automated Readability Index) : 11.58
SMOG : 14.18
Flesch Reading Ease : 40.62
So, congrats if you managed to read that post. But here's where we need to improve:

List of sentences which we suggest you should consider to rewrite to improve readability of the text :
Meantime, those slimy limey liars at the BBC use emotional images and moralistic statements to trump rational analysis and convince us without evidence that the government of Syria is guilty of crimes against humanity.

Canada, as the CBC slavishly reports, does not question the US line that President Assad of Syria is a monster "killing his own people," who by implication must be bombed out of power by US/NATO.

Yet it hardly makes sense for Assad, however psychopathic he may be, to provide US/NATO the justification they so desperately want to bomb him out of power.
I think what they're really saying is that without more than a dozen years of formal education the average person has difficulty understanding a sentence with a conditional clause or parenthetic phrase.

So what's the real problem here? That some people use words of more than one syllable, and sentences of more than twenty words, or that even after a dozen years of education many people struggle to understand a simple sentence? Or is it just that the readability calculator is a joke?

Here's what the calculator said about Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:

List of sentences which we suggest you should consider to rewrite to improve readability of the text :
  • It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

  • Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

  • It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
So come on, Abe, you can do better than that! Come to think about it though, what about that Readability Calculator sentence containing the words "we suggest you should consider to rewrite to improve readability of the text"? "Consider to rewrite to improve..."? Is stringing verbs together in the infinitive form really the way to improve readability? LOL.


  1. This crops up all the time when wants to divert attention from what their Global Economy is doing to people.

    One random page from FINNIGAN'S WAKE or ON THE ROAD will kill that calculator dead. Great writers of the twentieth century did nothing but run-ons, fragments and unidentified.

    How "readable", actually, was Hemingway? Even in translation Jean Genet was bonkers and inscrutable. Millions read all that. Why?

  2. "Millions read all that. Why?"

    The emperor's clothes?