Why readability formulas? Pros and Cons

Why readability formulas? Pros and Cons

This section is on the advantages and disadvantages of readability formulas in general. The arguments are well known and from different sources. Many aspects why readers can understand a text dependent on the interest, the knowledge, and the education of the reader or the typographic features (e.g. size and font)  how a text is printed/displayed. These aspects are not covered by readability formulas, only properties of the text itself are considered. In simple communication models a sender sends a message (text) to one or more recipients. Readability formulas don't consider sender(s) and recipient(s), they just analyse the text.

Advantages of using readability formulas

  1. By definition, readability formulas measure the grade-level readers must have to read a given text.
    The results from using readability formulas provide the writer of the text with much needed information to reach his/her target audience.
  2. Readability formulas do not require the readers to first go through the text to decide if the text is too hard or too easy to read. By readability formulas, one can know ahead of time if readers can understand the material. This can save time, money and energy.
  3. Readability formulas are text-based formulas; many researchers and readers find them easy to use.
  4. Today, readability analyses can be done with appropriate software. As such, most grammar or editing software today can determine the readability level of written materials.
  5. Readability formulas help writers convert their written material into a language that is easier to understand by the target audience. Readability formulas help the text-creators convert the document into plain language if the readability levels are low (which is the case with the reading levels of many American people), or too high (which is normally the case with higher-studies' students, researchers and professionals).
  6. Using readability formulas to perfect a document can help readers to increase their retention, comprehension, and speed of reading; this, in turn, smoothens out the work-schedule of your readers.
  7. A readable text always attracts a larger reader-base. 

Disadvantages of using readability formulas

  1. Readability is different from understand-ability. Unfortunately, readability formulas are not of much help if one wants to know how well the target audience understands the text. But: target audiences can be different and change over place and time, and it is difficult to find information on the target audience(s).
  2. Due to many readability formulas, there is an increasing chance of getting wide variation in results of a same text. But: Many readability formulas are for specific purposes only, and one has to know these and consider them. TextQuest/ReFo selects the correct formula.
  3. Readability formulas cannot measure the context, prior knowledge, interest level, difficulty of concept, or coherence of text. But: these criteria are difficult to measure and change often.
    Indeed, it is important to re-examine the use of readability formulas as a measure of reading difficulty. But: this should be done more often, because languages are changing all the time, new words and phrases come, others go or are used less often.
  4. Readability formulas also cannot measure the complexity of a word or phrase to pinpoint where you need to correct it. But: Zipf's law says that short words are the most used ones in any language, and also the best known ones (articles, prepositions, conjunctions etc.). The longer a word is the more difficult it is to understand. The complexity of a word or phrase is dependent on its length. Therefore one can look at long words and try to use another word or phrase for it. TextQuest/ReFo does this and highlights long words in the text.
  5. The admirers of literary geniuses largely see readability formulas as an affront to their work. Most great literary works fail to pass the readability tests, but this doesn't mean that those works are inferior in quality. The critics view readability formulas as over-simplification and a critique of creative writing. But: This is often correct, because often only samples of a text are analysed, and there are no analyses on parts of a text.
  6. Readability formulas cannot measure everything that contributes to how readable a book is for a reader, any more than a reading test can measure a reader's reading behaviour.
  7. Readability formulas can't measure the context, prior knowledge, interest level, difficulty of concepts, or coherence of text.
  8. Readability formulas apply mathematics to literature. This idea, itself, is not favoured by language scholars and researchers. But: language scholars and researchers don't like that because multivariate statistics are not their cup of tea.