Readability

            What makes something readable?  Not the same things that define its readability.  It is readable if it is well written and/or I have a desire to read it.  The readability of it is something else.  Readability is an interesting concept. 

            Selzer brings out some interesting facts with his discussion.  Words should be familiar to the audience and concrete.  He said that they should be both familiar and frequently used.  I wonder about this.  Most people’s vocabulary for speech is pretty limited.  Yet they are able to recognize more words than they use.  How could you say the audience frequently uses the word unless it is familiar to them?

            I found it interesting that neither length of sentence nor placement of clauses influenced readability.  The active/passive question annoys me.  We decide what we want to use.  It seems to me that if we were always reading passive, it would be the most readable.  Since most of our writing is active, active sentences are easier to read.

            I started this paragraph off with interesting too.  I have used that word in every paragraph so far.  Isn’t that interesting?

            The part of Selzer’s article I liked best was his discussion of the necessity for further workplace research in readability.  Too often we assume that something works in a lab and outside the same way.  It might be true for germs, although I am not too sure about that, but it isn’t true for people.

            As I said in class, I really liked Courtis’s article on the four readability indexes and the presidents’ letters.  I thought he did a fair job of saying what the limitations of readability formulas were. 

            I enjoyed reading about the level of reading necessary to comprehend the letters.  In fact, I thought it was so (interesting) that I wrote a letter to a friend about it, included the info in my daily journal, and talked to my husband about the article.             

My husband could not believe that 92% of the Canadian population does not have any college education.  I can’t believe it either.  Was the article saying 92% don’t have a grad degree?

 

Jack Selzer.  “Readability Is a Four-Letter Word.” Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 18, No. 4, 23-34 (1981)

 

John K. Courtis.  “Poor Communication is Alive and Well: A Study of Annual Report Readability.” Canadian Journal of Communication 12:3-4 (1986): 1-16.   (May be a different Courtis article.  I didn’t mark which one it was.)

Business Comm research

            I found Suchan and Dulek’s article to be fascinating.  I am sending a copy of it to a friend of mine who teaches tech writing at home in Abilene, Texas.  I appreciated the fact that the business comm instructors didn’t like the writing, while the org behavior people did.  That reminds us that even being educated (like Courtis and his readability formulas talked about) is insufficient sometimes.  I am keeping this article to teach with.  If I ever teach writing again, I am going to use the navy memo as a counter to the three mile island.  That memo didn’t work because it was to be read across discourse communities.  This one works, because it is read within a discourse community.

            That memo also tells us that all the document design research would probably not be as useful to the navy.  I mean, everyone knows you don’t write in all caps.  But it took the readers only 45 seconds to determine what the memo said.  That says, all caps won’t kill you and may not, in fact, really limit readability. 

            A suggestion for further research or a lit review, which I am not going to do having already started on mine, would be to look at document design studies and readability studies and see where they conflict, or might, and where they overlap.  I think it would be interesting to know if doc design standards also were determined based on isolate research, as opposed to in the field.  In fact, not knowing of any, I wonder if document design has much research in it.  I’d really like to know the theoretical bases for doc design.  Wonder who I’d ask or where I’d go to find out who the big names are in that field?

James Suchan and Ronald Dulek. “From Text to Context: An Open Systems Approach to Research in Written Business Communication” Journal of Business Communication  January 1, 1998; 35(1): 87 – 110.

Thoughts on Writer’s Survey

Couture and Rymer’s Writers’ Survey:

            I wonder if we (as technical writers working on a technical manual) would be more willing to share the credit if we and others saw our work as document managers and editors.  I would be in charge of making sure that multiple perspectives were represented in the work.  And I would be in charge of “editing” them in.  I think that might work.

Barbara Couture and Jone Rymer’s “Discourse Interaction between Writer and Supervisor.”  Collaborative Writing in Industry: Investigations in Theory and Practice, ed. Mary M. Lay and William M. Karis (Amityville, NY: Baywood, 1991, 284 pages).

How long does it take to write well in a corporate setting?

New writers taking up to four years to learn to write successfully (Paradis, Dobrin, and Miller). They said it was because the writer had to learn about his/her audience.  To get to know them.

 

Paradis, Dobrin, and Miller. “Writing at Exxon ITD: Notes on the writing environment of an R&D organization.” Writing in Nonacademic Settings. Ed. Odell and Goswani.

5 ways of thinking of audience

 Coney : “Think about your audience” reminded me of some work I saw, read, and used during an advanced comp class.  I think I’ll print and attach a copy of some questions about voice.  I think a similarly exhausting, if not exhaustive, list of questions about audience would be useful to define our assumptions about audience.

            I liked the taxonomy of readers, although I don’t think I would have had I not already been exposed to the idea.  Not sure why.

            reader as receiver of information

            reader as user

            reader as decoder

            reader as professional colleague– social constructions community creating meaning?  If so, how different from below?

            reader as maker of meaning

 

Coney, M.B.  “Technical readers and their rhetorical roles.”  Professional Communication, IEEE Transactions 35.2 (June 1992): 58-63.