We are all told how important it is to keep our audience in mind when we write. This is one of those pieces of advice that is easier said than done. There are two main problems:
- How do you know who the audience is, and
- How do you know what they will understand.
Here is a rather sad piece about the people who draft UK legislation. They have been making a big effort to make things understandable, but research shows that there is still a long way to go.
The size of the problem is summed up in one sentence from Alison Bertlin, who said:
It would be difficult to overstate the profound sense of realisation with which drafters observing the user testing sessions came to recognise the difficulties that ordinary readers have in reading ordinary legislation.
We can all see this is a long winded way of saying:
We are surprised that people find our work so hard to follow.
Readability measures can only ever be a guide, but here are a few to show just how bad this sentence is:
- It is a 32 word sentence. The Plain English Campaign recommends an average of 15 to 20 words.
- The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score is 19.7. This means someone in the 20th Grade of the US school system will be able to understand it easily. I don’t know much about US schools, but my guess is the 20th grade doesn’t exist. As a rough guide, adding 7 to this statistic gives the reading age. Let’s just say the average reading age in the UK is around 13, & move on.
- The Flesch-reading ease statistic is 10.4. This test rates text on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand the document. For most standard files, you want the score to be between 60 and 70.
So how does my translation rate? It is 12 words, with a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 3.8, and a Flesch-reading ease statistic of 88.9.